How the Little Mermaid become a symbol of Denmark

Sitting on a bed of rocks surrounded by people from virtually every corner, The Little Mermaid is an iconic spectacle in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, Scandinavia’s smallest nation and oldest kingdom.

During the summer months, hundreds – if not thousands – flock around this statue, which has graced the Langelinie harbour for more than 100 years.

What attracts tourists to it? It’s not only the focus of a well-known ballet performance or the most popular Disney animated movie. One of the most interesting twists to the plot is that the author of this popular fairytale is a Dane.

The fairytale was first published in 1837 in Denmark by renowned author Hans Christian Andersen. The plot revolves around the Little Mermaid, who strives to win the love of her prince. According to the legend, if the prince loved someone else, the mermaid would disappear and turn to foam in the sea.

Almost everywhere you go in Copenhagen, you are inundated with replicas and images of The Little Mermaid. It is not surprising that Danish tourism officials claim that it is probably the most photographed statue in Copenhagen, if not the world.

In 1909, Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen attended a ballet performance of The Little Mermaid at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen. Word has it that he was so delighted by the performance that he had a statute erected in its honour.

Meticulously designed 

Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen was commissioned to create the statue of the mermaid, sitting on a granite stone and thoughtfully looking for her prince. After much anticipation, the statue was presented to the city of Copenhagen on 23 August 1913. The Little Mermaid’s head was initially modelled after the famous ballerina Ellen Price. However, the sculptor’s wife ended up modelling for the statue instead.

When tourists approach The Little Mermaid, the first thing that surprises them is its size. It is relatively small, weighing around 175kg and standing 165cm tall.

Even though The Little Mermaid survived World War II and the Great Depression, she had to put up with numerous attacks by vandals. In 2003, it was knocked off its stone edifice.

Remarkable breakthrough

Despite pressure to keep it in its hometown, The Little Mermaid made its first international appearance at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 in China.

Even though moving the statue caused a controversy, it was later decided that it would be airlifted to China. Organisers said that the statue would best symbolise Denmark.

Hundreds gathered to watch the historic moving of this remarkable statue. A large crane hoisted the statue and carefully moved it onto the back of a truck. The itinerary of its journey was undisclosed.

At the Shanghai Expo, which attracted more than 5,5 million visitors, The Little Mermaid won an award for its cutting edge design.

While in China, tourists in Denmark could still see The Little Mermaid virtually through a live multimedia broadcast of the statue in Shanghai, along with artwork by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Nevertheless, vendors in Langelinie harbour found it embarrassing to sell replicas and postcards of The Little Mermaid while it was gone and merchandise sales  plummeted.

Happily, The Little Mermaid made it back to its hometown, and continues to draw crowds of up to 500 000 tourists a year. It may not be a big statue, but The Little Mermaid is a Danish symbol that stands taller than any other.

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