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March 16, 2009 7:47 PM   Subscribe

At least two English nursery rhymes (The Muffin Man and Oranges and Lemons) reference real, geographically precise locations. What are some non-English nursery rhymes that encapsulate an equivalent level of geographical (meaning, actual street names and/or distinct locations) detail?
posted by Chrischris to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sur le Pont D'Avignon (If that counts as a nursery rhyme. I think it probably does.)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2009

À Saint Malo beau port de mer

St Malo is a town in Brittany that burned to the ground in WWII.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:53 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was amazed to hear a Hungarian language nursery rhyme "version" of the Pied Piper of Hameln story when I was in Romania. I'd only just learned about the legend and heard the poem version of the tale (by Robert Browning.) Apparently, this Hungarian version is itself adapted from a "Saxon" (German) version told for generations in Transylvania, about the mysterious blond-haired, blue-eyed children who came out of a cave near the city of Kronstadt (Brasov to Romanians, Brassó to Hungarians) to populate the area. Everyone seemed to know this Transylvanian part of the story, no one seemed to know the part of the legend that's the only-known tale in English-speaking countries. That is to say, they know only that a "pied piper" brought Saxons to the area; nothing about the rats and non-payment for services rendered by the Pied Piper back in Hameln. It seemed interesting to me, these two halves of the story, and hopefully I've got all the details right. Being Bosnian, I didn't grow up with any knowledge of any part of the story at all! I found a little background:

Once upon a time, in 1284, the tiny town of Hamelyn (Hameln) in Westfalia was invaded by rats and mice. Nothing worked - no traps, no cats, no poison. Till a stranger came and offered to rid the town of the pest. A price was agreed and the stranger played a magic tune coercing the rats and mice to follow him into the river Weser, where they drowned. The happy inhabitants started to sing and dance, forgetting about payment. The Piper left the town only to return one early morning, very early. He played a different magic tune and 130 children rose in their nightgowns and followed the Piper to a near-by hill, Koppenberg, which opened up to receive them, then closed.

This metaphor of the departure of groups of Saxons, Luxemburgers, Flanders to faraway lands in eastern Europe - is a treasured legend of mankind.

One day, though, in 1819, the brothers Grimm announced - in their "Deutsche Sagen" - that the Children did not perish, they surfaced somewhere in Transylvania. "In their relative seclusion, the Lower Saxons who have emigrated to Transylvania about 700 years ago, preserved the oral traditions purer and more folk-like than us (in Germany)" - said Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Then a Transylvanian priest serving with the Black Church in Brasov, Friederich Mueller, followed Grimm's advice to write down the oral tales while people still remembered them. He toured Saxon communities in Transylvania and published a little-known book, "Siebenburgische Sagen" (Tales of Transylvania) which mentions, under Tale No. 141 (in brief): "We, Germans of Transylvania, are the children taken by the Pied-piper from Hamelyn, and we traveled a long time under the ground (in the unknown) and emerged in the middle of Transylvania through the cave of Meresti in the Varghis Gorge - then spread to our seven cities and many villages".

I don't know if this "oral tale" is the same thing I heard, but what I heard was definitely a very rhyming children's poem and thus, by my reckoning, a nursery rhyme. And as both Hameln and the Meresti cave in the Varghis Gorge exist, this would seem to fit your criterion.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:12 PM on March 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

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