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Literature / The Bremen Town Musicians

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"The Bremen Town Musicians" (Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten) is a German folk story about a group of animals who decide to run away and to form a musical troupe in the town of Bremen. However, during their trip, they decide to spend a night in a cottage that belongs to a group of robbers. The animals scare the robbers away with their "singing" and settle themselves into the cottage. When a robber returns later, they also repel him, mostly because of his own superstitious fears. The robber returns with his companions and tells them he has just been attacked by witches and monsters; so all the robbers decide to never return to the cottage. The animals, on the other hand, decide to remain there, and live happily ever after.

The story is short and lighthearted, more a folktale than a Fairy Tale. It was collected by The Brothers Grimm and included in their Children's and Household Tales.

Franz Xaver von Schönwerth collected a different version in his From the Upper Palatinate. Customs and Sayings book called The Wandering Animals (German: Die Wandernden Tiere). Among other differences, the group of animals were made up for a dog, a cat, a rooster, a fox, an ox and a horse.

It is classified in the international Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index (ATU) as tale type ATU 130, "The Animals in Night Quarters". The Brothers Grimm's tale can be read in the SurLaLune site, here, here and in the Project Gutenberg.

Although it has not achieved the prominence of other stories collected in Children's and Household Tales, it remains a fairly popular and easily adaptable story for children, and the motif of the animals standing on top of each other from a famous statue is well-known in some parts of the world.

Famous adaptations of this story

"The Bremen Town Musicians" contains the following tropes:

  • Accidental Hero: In some versions of the story the whole band never realizes they're up against "bad guys"; they repel them more or less by accident (usually by attempting to give them a concert).
  • Big Bad: The unnamed leader of the robbers our musicians repel.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Which is about what you'd expect, given that they're a mismatched group of animals trying to "sing".
  • Dreadful Musician: Considering that the musicians' only performance convinces the robbers that they're Demon Lords and Archdevils, they presumably qualify.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: The animals spent their lives working hard for their respective owners just to be shunned (donkey) or threatened with death when they became old and weak. The Rooster still could sing, but his mistress wanted to have him cooked for dinner anyway.
  • Everyone Meets Everyone: And they decide to start a band.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: The "Bremen Town Musicians" go with that band name even though they never make it to Bremen.
  • Home Sweet Home: In the end, the animals decide not to go to Bremen after all, opting to stay at the cottage instead.
  • Interspecies Friendship: A donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster (or, in The Wandering Animals version, a dog, a cat, a rooster, a fox, an ox and a horse) form a happy company.
  • Mixed Animal Species Team: The tale is about a team up of a donkey, dog, cat, and a rooster, as all of them seek a better life after their respective owners mistreat/plan to kill them due to their age and uselessness.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The lone robber gets his butt thrashed hard by the animals, who jump him for trespassing.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: For most people this story is the first thing they think of whenever they hear the name of the town Bremen. People outside Germany may even be surprised that the city really exists.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A band of elderly farm animals escape being put to death and try to become traveling musicians; on their way to Bremen, they scare off a gang of bandits.
  • The Runaway: All main characters, except for the rooster (who was convinced by the donkey to escape his farm), have run from their homes.
  • Stealing from Thieves: The musicians scare away a group of robbers and seize their house and other possessions for themselves.
  • Talking Animal: Well, they talk to each other. But probably not to people.