A bronze statue by Gerhard Marcks depicting the Bremen Town Musicians located in Bremen, Germany. The statue was erected in 1953. Note the front hooves that have become shiny. Touching the front hooves is said to make wishes come true.
In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster (or hen), all past their prime years in life and usefulness on their respective farms, were soon to be discarded or mistreated by their masters. One by one they leave their homes and set out together. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians there. ("Something better than death we can find anywhere.")
On the way to Bremen, they see a lighted cottage; they look inside and see four robbers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. Standing on each other's backs, they decide to scare the robbers away by standing on each other and making a din; the men run for their lives, not knowing what the strange sound is. The animals take possession of the house, eat a good meal, and settle in for the evening.
Later that night, the robbers return and send one of their members in to investigate. He sees the Cat's eyes shining in the darkness and the robber thinks he is seeing the coals of the fire. He reaches over to light his candle. Things happen in quick succession; the Cat scratches his face with her claws, the Dog bites him on the leg, the Donkey kicks him with his hooves, and the Rooster crows and chases him out the door, screaming. He tells his companions that he was beset by a horrible witch who scratched him with her long fingernails (the Cat), an ogre with a knife (the Dog), a giant who had hit him with his club (the Donkey), and worst of all, the judge who screamed in his voice from the rooftop (the Rooster). The robbers abandon the cottage to the strange creatures who have taken it, where the animals live happily for the rest of their days.
An alternate version involves the animals' master(s) being deprived of his livelihood (because the thieves stole his money and/or destroyed his farm or mill) and having to send his animals away, unable to take care of them any further. After the animals dispatch the thieves, they take the ill-gotten gains back to their master so he can rebuild. Other versions involve at least one wild, non-livestock animal, such as a lizard, helping the domestic animals out in dispatching the thieves.
Statues modeled after the Town Musicians of Bremen statue now reside in front of each of the five German veterinary schools. These statues were a gift.
In the early 20th century, the American folk/swing/children's musician Frank Luther popularized the same musical tale as the "Raggletaggletown Singers", presented in children's school music books and performed in children's plays.
Carl Zuckmayer cites the tale in his 1931 play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, particularly the line "We can find something better than death anywhere", which becomes a key line for the last part of the plot.
Persiflage by Heinrich-Otto Pieper
A persiflage of this tale can be found on the wall in the Fort Napoleon, Ostend, Belgium. Heinrich-Otto Pieper, a German soldier during World War I, painted the German and the Austro-Hungarian eagles throned on a rock, under the light of a Turkish crescent. They look with contempt on the futile efforts of the Town Musicians of Bremen to chase them away. These animals are symbols for the Allied Forces: on top the French cock, standing on the Japanese jackal, standing on the English bulldog, standing on the Russian bear. Italy is depicted as a twisting snake and Belgium a triciolored beetle.
In the Soviet Union, the story was loosely adapted into an animated musical in 1969 by Yuri Entin and Vasily Livanov at the studio Soyuzmultfilm, The Bremen Town Musicians. It was followed by a sequel called On the Trail of the Town Musicians of Bremen. In 2000, a second 56-minute sequel was made, called The New Bremen Musicians (Но́вые бре́менские, Novyye bremenskiye).
In 1976, in Italy, Sergio Bardotti (it) and Luis Enríquez Bacalov adapted the story into a musical play called I Musicanti, which two years later was translated into Portuguese by the Brazilian composer Chico Buarque. The musical play was called Os Saltimbancos, was later released as an album, and became one of the greatest classics for children in Brazil. This version was also made into a movie. In Spain, the story was made into an animated feature film, Los Trotamúsicos in 1989, directed by Cruz Delgado (es). This in itself inspired the Spanish animated series Los Trotamúsicos, which aired for nearly a decade. The series follows the story of four animal friends: Koki the rooster, Lupo the dog, Burlón the cat and Tonto the donkey; who form a band in the playing respectively guitar, drums, trumpet and saxophone. Unlike in the original story, they actually arrive to Bremen, before going back to live in the robbers' house.
Richard Scarry wrote an adaptation of the story in his book Richard Scarry's Animal Nursery Tales in 1975. In it, the donkey, dog, cat and rooster are all fully anthropomorphic (as is the case of all Richard Scarry characters), and set out since they are bored with farming.
The 1991 Sierra adventure game Mixed-Up Fairy Tales includes Bremen Town Musicians as one of the stories the player must correct.
Hello! Project's Minimoni starred in a drama based on the fairy tale called Mini Moni.de Bremen no Ongakutai (Mini Moni's Bremen Town Musicians). The drama goes backwards in time through three periods of Japanese history unveiling the story. The drama does not have much in common with the fairy tale.
In Germany and the United States, the story was adapted into an animated feature in 1997 under the title The Fearless Four (Die furchtlosen Vier), though it varied considerably from the source material. It starred James Ingram as Buster the dog, B.B. King as Fred the donkey, Oleta Adams as Gwendolyn the cat and Zucchero Fornaciari as Tortellini the Rooster in the original English version.
In the anime Otogi-Jūshi Akazukin one of the main villains is named Randagio, who is based on the cat of the story as well as on Puss in Boots. He has three underlings that are based on the other three animals from the fairy tale and have a band named Breman.
Bremen is also the title of a manga series by Haruto Umezawa about a four-member punk rock band, each member of which bears a physical resemblance to one of the four animals in the fairy tale.
In the video game Kyuiin, the Town Musicians of Bremen are a boss fight with each animal having its own attack.
On Cartoon Network in between cartoon breaks during the Out of Tune Toons marathon and on Cartoonetwork Video, there are cartoon shorts (called "Wedgies") of an animal band based on the tale called "The Bremen Avenue Experience" featuring a cat (Jessica), dog (Simon), donkey (Barret) and rooster (Tanner). They are either a modern adaptation of Town Musicians of Bremen or descendants of the old musicians of Bremen.
During their Germany-themed event, FarmVille offered a replica of the statue for purchase to decorate players' farms.
In Tekken Tag Tournament 2, the Town Musicians of Bremen can be seen in the background of the "Historic Town Square" stage.
In the visual novel Morenatsu, the dog character Kouya is part of a rock band with 3 other performers: who are a cat, a bird, and a horse. The protagonist makes note of the resemblance to the Town Musicians of Bremen, with a brief monologue explaining the fairy tale.
In Success's online game Rakuen Seikatsu Hituji Mura, a special event running in 2014 centered around the player unveiling the story of a hen, cat, dog, and donkey, who eventually team up to form a musical group named "Team Bremen" and help the player win the music festival.