What do perestroika, the Brothers Grimm and this statue in Riga, Latvia have in common? Depends on your understanding of history, especially during the early 1990s, when Europe was going through winds of change.
On one of those wet afternoons while in Riga, my travel buddy and I managed to find ourselves in front of St Peter’s Church. Originally built more than 800 years ago, turns out it is one of the city’s most important monuments. And while only a few walls and pillars are what remain of the original construction, it still has some of the most amazing Gothic architecture. The highlight, of course, is the 123-meter high spire, the tallest tower in the city.
However, what caught my eye and made me stop in my tracks was a statue just outside the church that has become something of an iconic monument in Riga. The Bremen Town Musicians is based on one of many fairy tales from the Grimm Brothers. The donkey, dog, cat and rooster, well past their prime and yearning for freedom from their masters, decide to head to Bremen to become musicians. After finding a cottage that they would love to call home, they realise that its inhabitants are robbers. To get rid of them, the animals stand on each other’s back and raise such a ruckus that the robbers make haste.
That’s the original tale. This one however, has a different twist to the original tale. It is a creation of the sculptor Krista Baumgaertel, and was created in 1990, a year before Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union. It was the time of Mikhail Gorbachev, and his restructuring programme was already redrawing borders and creating new countries. In this sculpture, the animals aren’t trying to scare away the robbers. Instead, they are peering through the Iron Curtain, to a new world of freedom and possibilities.
In case you are wondering what Bremen has to do with Riga, it’s also because these two are considered as twin cities. Turns out that there are similar sculptures at all the Veterinary Medicine universities in Germany.
It’s become quite a magnet for both Latvians and tourists alike. Apparently, it is considered good luck if you rub the nose of any of the animals. And if you want a wish to be granted, then touching a different part of any of the animals’ body part is sure to help speed up the process. How’s that for a fairy tale ending. After all, they always have happy endings.