Origins and features ...
The central premise behind the Bremen Town Musicians is actually a great deal older than the fairytale itself. The oldest story that bears a close resemblance is believed to have arrived in Europe via India as early as 91 BC. Around this time, other tales of wandering, musical animals are thought to have existed in Asia, the Far East and Europe. Typically, the companions travel to a faraway city and overcome obstacles along the way with courage and ingenuity. In one version from the 12th century, the animals frighten away a lion, a bear and a wolf – all heraldic symbols of the aristocracy – instead of the usual robbers.
"Aus der Schatzkammer der Deutschen Märchenstrasse" by Eberhard Michael Iba, published by Carl Schünemann Verlag Bremen, 1987, ISBN 978-3796117848
"Altbremen: Von den Tagenbaren und ihrer Umwelt" by Heinrich Schmidt-Barrien, published by Döll Verlag Bremen, ISBN 3-920245-40-7
David and Goliath
When good and evil come face to face in fairytales, the good usually emerge victorious. It is a case of brain over brawn. Our innate desire for justice to triumph in the end is most definitely satisfied by the tale of the Bremen Town Musicians. First the animals escape their thankless masters and they then use their guile and cunning to frighten away the foolish robbers.
"City air makes you free"
In the Middle Ages (approx. 500-1500 AD), from the second half of the 12th century, European cities held the promise of a new life for serfs, giving rise to the saying "city air makes you free". Much like the Bremen Town Musicians, a great many peasants attempted to escape their feudal lords by heading for the city walls in the hope of leading an independent life. Those who were not found and retrieved after a year and a day were free for good.
"Der Alltag im Mittelalter" by Maike Voigt-Lüerssen, published by Books on Demand, 2006, ISBN 978-3833443541
August, the "Ghostwriter"
The Bremen Town Musicians fairytale originally comes from eastern Westphalia and is attributed to the von Haxthausen family from Paderborn. Wilhelm Grimm was a family friend and a regular guest at Bökenhof Castle. Baron August Franz, the head of the family, heard the tale of the travelling animals while he was away on business and recounted the story and others like it to Wilhelm. In 1819, the Bremen Town Musicians was included in the second edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales.
"...und sie machten sich auf den Weg nach Bremen" by Nora and Bertram Kircher, published by Carl Schünemannn Verlag Bremen, 1990, ISBN 3-7961-1805-4
New research claims that the Town Musicians were not headed to Bremen at all, but to a neighbouring town called Breme, Bremerberg or even Lüttebremen. The story of the wandering animals is known throughout the world with the Bremen Town Musicians one of many regional variations. The Brothers Grimm were, however, said to be good friends with the Mayor of Bremen at the time, Johann Smidt. It is therefore possible that the animals' strong desire to get to Bremen was a gesture of appreciation for him. Real town musicians, who played at festivals and in churches, are known to have been in Bremen since 1339. A more tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the fairytale might suggest that any old fool could make music in Bremen and that even useless old farmyard animals were given to try their luck.
"Die Stadtmusikanten in Bremen" by Andreas Röpcke and Karin Hackel-Stehr, published by Edition Temmen Bremen, 1993, ISBN 3861082195