Posts Tagged ‘Brothers Grimm’

Bremer Stadtmusikanten Story

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

The Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town Musicians of Bremen) might well be the city’s best-known logo. The four animal “musicians” standing on each other’s backs are based on an old folktale recorded by the Brothers Grimm. A 6.5-foot bronze statue on the west side of Bremen’s city hall, right next to the Ratskeller (Town Hall Cellar), depicts the Bremer Stadtmusikanten: A donkey forms the base of the pyramid. A dog stands on the donkey’s back. A cat towers on top of a dog and a rooster perches on top of a cat.


Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town musicians of Bremen) in front of Bremen's city hall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town musicians of Bremen) in front of Bremen’s city hall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Rubbing the front hoofs of the donkey is said to make a wish come true. Apparently, many visitors gave it a try because the donkey’s hoofs gleam in the sunlight.

Synopsis of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten folktale

Once upon a time, four domestic animals – a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster – reached their sunset years. In the mind of their masters, each had outlived his usefulness. The donkey was too old to carry the sacks of flour to the mill; the dog lacked the stamina to hunt; the cat couldn’t catch mice anymore and the rooster was slated for the soup pot. Each of the creatures had served its master faithfully for many years and was now being treated poorly because it got old. Dreaming of a fulfilling life, each leaves his home for a life, independent of his master. By a twist of fate the four animals happen upon each other on their way to freedom and agree to walk to Bremen together to become town musicians.

On their way to their new life in the big city, they have to rest for the night. The four prospective town musicians spot a lighted cottage and hope for a place to sleep. The cottage belongs to a band of robbers who are just about to enjoy a table full of ill-gotten delicacies. Standing on each other’s backs and hoping to secure some food for their efforts, the Bremer Stadtmusikanten make music to the best of their abilities. The donkey brays, the dog barks, the cat meows, and the rooster crows. Terrified by the strange sounds, the robbers abandon the cottage. The animals settle in, enjoy a good meal and live happily ever after in the cottage.

Interestingly enough, in Grimm’s folktale the four Bremer Stadtmusikanten never actually arrive in Bremen. They stay in the cottage in the woods. But the story is so intimately connected with the City of Bremen that its citizens have adopted it.

Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten

The Bremer Tourist Bureau commissioned German sculptor Gerhard Marcks to create a sculpture of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten. In 1951, Marcks gave his creation to the City of Bremen on loan. Only two years later, the city purchased the sculpture for 20,000 Deutsche Mark.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Brothers Grimm – fairy tales and more

Monday, February 15th, 2016

When we think of the Brothers Grimm (Gebrueder Grimm), their fairy tales pop to mind. We recall the familiar stories read to us in childhood: Hansel and Gretel (Haensel und Gretel), Snow White (Schneewittchen), Sleeping Beauty (Dornroeschen), Cinderella (Aschenputtel), Little Red Riding Hood (Rotkaeppchen) and Rapunzel (Rumpelstilzchen). Grimm’s fairy tales became to popular worldwide that they may have been outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible.

The Brothers Grimm published far more than folklore

But aside from collecting and publishing fairy tales, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – both University-trained linguists and librarians – also wrote many books on mythology, linguistics and medieval studies. They even started compiling a German dictionary on the scale of the Oxford English Dictionary. Unfortunately, both brothers died before they could finish the project.

Grimms ausgewaehlte Maerchen, printed in 1946, my favorite childhood book, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Grimms ausgewaehlte Maerchen, printed in 1946, my favorite childhood book, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Who were the Brothers Grimm?

Jacob Grimm (born in 1785) and Wilhelm Grimm (born in 1786) were the second- and third-eldest surviving siblings in a family of nine children. Three of the Grimm children died in infancy. The Brothers Grimm were born to prosperous parents and grew up in the German town of Hanau, 25 km east of Frankfurt/Main. Their father was a lawyer; their mother was the daughter of a city councilman.

But when Wilhelm was ten years old, the boys’ father passed away, and the family plunged into poverty. Only with great difficulty did the Brothers Grimm manage to attend a university preparatory school. Although they went on to law school, their interest soon shifted to the collection of folklore. Their book, “Die Kinder- und Hausmaerchen” (Nursery and Household Tales), first published in 1812, contains stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. The book eventually became known as “Grimms’ Fairy Tales – Grimm’s Maerchen.”

The Brothers Grimm did not invent the tales

Many readers assume that the Brothers Grimm actually invented these fairy tales. But they did not. Instead, they only collected and published the stories. Until the early 1900s, fairy tales were part of an oral tradition. While doing household chores, women often retold stories to reduce the monotony of their chores. But all this changed with industrialization. The stories faced extinction until the Brothers Grimm began collecting them by talking to relatives and friends in many parts of the country.

It is also interesting that Grimm’s Fairy Tales were never meant for children because the stories routinely included sex, violence and incest. But once the stories became popular, the Brothers Grimm continued to revise them until they deemed them appropriate for the young minds of children.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.