Located near the town of Bingen, the Mouse Tower (or “Mäuseturm” in German) is one of the Rhine River’s many toll stations. According to German folklore, however, it has a compelling and somewhat troubling history.
One old folktale tells the story of Hatto II, a cruel ruler from the medieval era. He served as the archbishop of Mainz from 968 to 970.
During this period, he built the church of St. George on Reichenau Island. He also stationed archers and crossbowmen on the tower. If passing ships did not pay tribute to him, he ordered those positioned on the building to shoot at them.
Hatto’s cruelty also affected the locals. He stored all of the town’s grain in his barns, and during a famine in 974, he charged high prices for the grain—so high that most could not afford to purchase any.
Angered by the lack of food and Hatto’s lack of compassion, the town’s peasants made plans to rebel. However, Hatto learned of this plan and responded by telling the people to wait for him in an empty barn while he gathered food for them.
The people responded with praise for Hatto and went to the barn. Meanwhile, Hatto ordered his servants to shut and lock the barn doors, then set the building on fire. While they burned to death, he told the servants to “hear the mice squeak.”
Hatto got his comeuppance when he returned to his castle. He was attacked by an army of mice, who chased him all the way to the top floor of the tower, where they eventually ate him alive.
Historians agree that there is little validity to this cautionary tale. However, it is still shared frequently.
Today, the Mouse Tower serves as a toll station and not an all-you-can-eat mouse buffet. Visitors can still take a guided tour to explore it and learn about its history, though.