The Town Musicians of Bremen

A Grimm Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a rooster, a dog, a donkey and a cat, realizing they’d outlived their usefulness and under threat of being eaten or killed, set out toward Bremen. Their plan was to make a living as musicians: the Town Musicians of Bremen.

an image of the town musicians of Bremen, in this case, reading books
an image of the town musicians of Bremen, in this case, reading books

On the way, they passed a cottage where a group of thieves lived and, looking inside, saw them enjoying a feast.

The four animals formed a pyramid and made loud noises—the rooster crowed, the dog barked, the donkey brayed, and the cat meowed—and the thieves were so scared they ran away. The animals enjoyed the dinner themselves and then settled in to sleep.

In the middle of the night, the burglars went back to the cottage and sent one man in to investigate. He wanted to light a candle, so he went into the kitchen. Seeing the eyes of the cat and mistaking them for hot coals, he tried to light a match against them. Of course the cat responded by spitting and scratching. This woke the others, and the dog bit the thief, the donkey kicked him on the way out the door, and the rooster crowed at him from the roof as he escaped.

I spotted this image of the town musicians of Bremen in the window of a very old half-timbered house in Schnoor.
I spotted this image of the town musicians of Bremen in the window of a very old half-timbered house in Schnoor.

The burglar ran back to his friends and told them that a witch had scratched him with her fingernails, a man had knifed him, a monster had hit him with a club, and a judge on the roof had screamed at him.

The thieves heard his story and gave up on the cottage, so the animals could stay and lived happily ever after.

The Town Musicians of Bremen

The city of Bremen loves this Grimm fairy tale, and references to the Town Musicians of Bremen are scattered throughout the old center. When my husband and I visited recently and learned the story, we started seeing the images everywhere we went. It was fun to spot them and take pictures. The most famous is right outside the Rathaus, and the donkey’s hoofs and snout are shiny from people rubbing them for luck.

statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen beside the Rathaus in Bremen
statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen beside the Rathaus in Bremen

In the original story, the donkey intends to play the lute, the dog plans to play the kettledrum, the cat will play “night music” (Nachtmusik) and the rooster will sing. Some of the images depict them with instruments, or else standing on each other’s backs.

Two things are wrong with the story of the Town Musicians of Bremen, in my opinion. First, they never actually arrive in Bremen. And, second, the story never says whether they ever become musicians either. It ends with “…[the house] suited the four musicians of Bremen so well that they did not care to leave it anymore.”

This image of the town musicians of Bremen depicts the animals as people in animal costumes playing instruments. Its in a very narrow alley in the Schnoor area.
This image of the town musicians of Bremen depicts the animals as people in animal costumes playing instruments. It’s in a very narrow alley in the Schnoor area.

So did they perform? And did they ever visit Bremen? It’s such a wonderfully random story, isn’t it?

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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It’s a lovely story! And good for Bremen to make the story their own.

Great story! Do you mind me rebloggging your post onto mine and profile this as genre of the week? That would be a great addition. Please let me know if it’s ok. Thanks!

What a fun fact to learn about a city that is so drawn to this specific fairy tale! I loved seeing all of the statues and how the story is retold through artwork throughout the city.

‘Love this post!

I have been to Bremen a few times as my German in-laws live in a village about 30 minutes away! I remember seeing the animals and realising that Bremen was a real place and not just in a storybook. Also, the houses remind me so much of England!

I found this interesting because I’ve just been reading Kate Forsyth’s novel “The Wild Girl” about the Brothers Grimm and how they collected their fairy tales. There’s such a lot of folklore with ancient origins and it’s good to see that it’s still celebrated in German cities.

OMG! I love, love, love this post!! What a clever approach you’ve taken to introduce me to this wonderful fairy tale town. I had just been thinking how tired I was of reading “the best. . .”, ‘the 10 top. . .” the same old approach to writing and this just lifted me out of my chair. Bravo!

I love the way to tell the story of the musicians of Bremen. It makes me eager to find out more about the story and about Bremen. Thanks for a great posting!

That was one of the most unique posts I have read in quite some time. Referring to your last line, I think it might just be better not to try and analyze anything Grimm to much. I just might make your head ache.

I never made it to Bremen, but I did visit the rest of the Fairy Tale Road, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Travel-Articles/Abroad/Fairy-Tale-Road/fairy-tale-road.html

Love the story, but it sounds like they never took their show on the road.

Love stories that end up being recreated in a town! But do I know Bremen from somewhere else? World War II? Anyways, love how you were able to share a classic story with sites!

Interesting blog post When visiting Riga, I saw the sculpture named the Bremen Town Musicians and was told it had been a gift to Riga from the German city of Bremen.