The Bremen City Musicians

The Bremen City Musicians

A man had a donkey that had untiringly, for many years, carried the grain sacks to the mill. But its strength was waning so that it became less and less able to do its work. So the man thought of having it put down; but the donkey realised that something ill was in the offing, ran away and took the road to Bremen: there it meant to join the City Music. After walking for a while it found a hunting dog lying on the path, panting like one who has run itself to exhaustion. ‘Well, what makes you pant like this, packleader?’ asked the donkey. ‘Alas’, said the dog, ‘because I am old and getting weaker every day, and can’t keep up with the hunt, my master wanted to kill me, but I escaped. But how am I to earn my living now?’ — ‘You know’, said the donkey, ‘I’m going to Bremen to become a City Musician. Come with me and let yourself be hired as well. I’ll play the lute, and you can beat the kettle-drum.’ The dog liked the idea, and they continued on their way. Not long after, there was a cat sitting near the path, with a face like three days of rain. ‘Well, what’s got you so upset, old whiskercleaner?’ said the donkey. ‘Who could be happy when their life is threatened’, said the cat. ‘Because I am getting on, and my teeth are dull and I prefer sitting behind the oven and spinning to chasing around after mice, my mistress has wanted to drown me. I’ve managed to run off in time, but now I’m at my wits’ end: where can I go?’ — ‘Why not come with us to Bremen. You are an expert in nightly music, so you can become a City Musician.’ The cat thought well of that and went along. Then the three passed a farm, and on the gate sat the cockerel and crowed with all its strength. ‘Your screams rattle our bones’, said the donkey, ‘what’s up?’ — ‘Imagine: I’ve prophesied good weather’, said the cockerel, ‘because it is Our Lady’s day when she’s washed the infant Christ’s shirts and wants to dry them. But tomorrow there will be guests for the Sunday, and so the farmwife’s had no mercy and has told the cook that she wants to eat me in the soup tomorrow, and I’m to have my head chopped off tonight. So I’m crowing my life out as long as I can.’ — ‘Why not do better, redhead,’ said the donkey. ‘Come with us, we’re going to Bremen. You’ll find something better than death anywhere; you have a good voice, and when we all make music together, it’s bound to sound great.’ The cockerel accepted the idea, and all four continued together.

However they were unable to reach Bremen in one day, and as evening fell, they came to a forest and thought to spend the night there. The donkey and the dog lay down under a tall tree, the cat and the cockerel got into the branches, but the cockerel flew right to the treetop where it was safest. Before going to sleep, it took a last look to all four winds. Suddenly it thought it saw a gleam in the distance, and called to its four companions that there had to be a house not far away, because it could see the light. The donkey said: ‘We’d better go there, because the accommodation here is poor.’ The dog, too, thought a few bones with a bit of meat would go down well. So they went in the direction of the light, and soon enough saw it get brighter, and it kept getting bigger until they stood in front of a brilliantly lit robber-house. The donkey, as the tallest of them, stepped up to a window and peered in. ‘What do you see, greyhorse?’ asked the cockerel. ‘What I see,’ said the donkey, ‘is a set table with beautiful food and drink, and robbers sit around it and enjoy themselves.’ — ‘Just the thing for us,’ said the cockerel. ‘Yes, yes, oh would that we were there,’ said the donkey. So the animals considered how they could chase the robbers off, and finally found a means. The donkey had to put its front feet on the windowsill, the dog jumped up onto the donkey’s back, the cat climbed on top of the dog, and the cockerel flew up and sat on the cat’s head. Once in position, at a signal they all started to make their music: the donkey screamed, the dog barked, the cat meowed, and the cockerel crowed. Then they hurtled themselves though the window into the room surrounded by shattering glass. The robbers started at the dreadful scream, thought a ghost was coming in, and fled in greatest terror out into the forest. So the four companions sat down at the table, helped themselves to whatever was left over, and ate as if they were going to fast for the next four weeks.

When the four musicians had finished, they put out the light and found themselves somewhere to sleep, each one after its own nature and comfort. The donkey lay down on the compost heap, the dog behind the door, the cat on the stove near the warm cinders, and the cockerel sat on the rafters; and because they were tired after their long journey, they soon fell asleep. Once midnight was past and the robbers saw from a distance that the lights were out in the house and everything appeared quiet, their captain said: ‘We shouldn’t have let ourselves be scared like this,’ and ordered one of his followers to go and reconnoitre the house. The emissary found all quiet, went to the kitchen to make some light, and because he thought the glowing eyes of the cat were live coals, he touched a match to them. But the cat didn’t see this as funny, jumped into his face, spat and scratched. Greatly frightened, he ran to get out of the back door. But the dog lay there, and it rose and bit his calf, and as he passed the compost heap in the back yard, the donkey gave him a good whack with its hind leg; but the cockerel, woken by the clamour, cried down from the rafters: ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ The robber ran as fast as he could back to his captain and said: ‘Alas, there is a terrible witch in the house who has breathed on me and scratched my face with her long nails; and in front of the door is a man with a knife that he’s stuck into my leg; and in the back yard there’s a black monster that has clubbed me with a wooden cudgel. But up on the roof, there is the judge, and he called, bring the robber to me. So I ran away.’ Henceforth the robbers didn’t dare come back to the house. But the four Bremen City Musicians liked it so much they didn’t want to leave again. And the last one to tell this tale still has a watery mouth.