In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, all mistreated by their masters, leave them and meet in a desolate place. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners.
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 perform for the men in hopes of gaining food. Their 'music' has an unanticipated effect; 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. It is dark, and he sees the eyes of the Cat shining in the darkness. He reaches over to light his candle, thinking he sees the coals of the fire. Things happen in quick succession; the Cat swipes his face with her claws, the Donkey picks up his hooves and kicks him, the Dog bites him on the leg, 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 fingers (the Cat), a man with a knife (the Dog), a monster who had hit him with a club (the Donkey), and worst of all, the devil who screamed 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.
The tale has often been retold both as animated pictures, motion pictures (often musicals) and theatre plays. Jim Henson produced a version with his Muppets called muppet:The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. In the Soviet Union, the story was loosely adapted into an animated musical in 1969 by Vasily Livanov at the studio Soyuzmultfilm, The Bremen Town Musicians (Бре́менские музыка́нты, Bremenskie muzykanty). In 2000, a new 56-minute adaptation was made in Russia called The New Bremen Musicians (Но́вые бре́менские, Novyye bremenskiye)
In the mid-1960s, Tupper Saussy wrote a composition titled The Beast with Five Heads on a commission from the Nashville Symphony to teach schoolchildren about orchestration, intended as a substitute for Peter and the Wolf.
In Brazil, Chico Buarque adapted into a musical play called Os Saltimbancos, which was later released as an album, and became one of the greatest classics for children. This version was also made into a movie.
In the video game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the hero, Link, can receive a mask called the Bremen Mask by listening to the confession of its former owner, in which he tells Link that he once belonged to a musical animal troupe. There was a dog who was the leader of the troupe, and he wore the mask to signify that he was the leader. The man, jealous of being outdone by a dog, stole this mask and left the troupe. After finishing his story, he presents to Link the Bremen Mask, which is a white eagle's head with feather's dashing back, covering Link's ears. The upper beak covers his nose, however the lower beak doesn't cover his mouth. When worn, instead of drawing his sword, Link will rather put his ocarina to his mouth and march to a melody he plays. If puppies or young chicks are near, they will be attracted to the melody and march along behind him, barking and chirping to the rhythm.
A persiflage of this tale can be found on the wall in the Fort Napoleon, Oostende, 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 chafer.
On Cartoon Network in between cartoon breaks during the "Out of Tune Toons" marathon and on Cartoonetwork Video, there are cartoon shorts of an animal band based of the tale called "The Bremen Avenue Experience" featuring a cat (Jessica), dog (Simon), donkey (Barret) and rooster (Tanner), they are either a modern adaption on the Bremen Town Musicians or descendants of the old musicians of Bremen.
Hello Project's Mini Moni. 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 of three periods of Japanese history unvailing the story. The drama does not have very much in common with the fairy tale.
Some of the best known adaptations are: