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The tale of the Little Mermaid

She wanted legs and gave her voice to the sea witch in return: Who doesn’t know the tale of the Little Mermaid (den lille Havfrue in Danish)? The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story in 1836. A statue of the girl from the sea was set on Langelinie quay in Copenhagen as a tribute.

This is where she still sits, on a granite stone in the old harbour district of Nyhavn. The Little Mermaid has inadvertently become one of the most famous attractions of Copenhagen, with dozens of people posing to have their picture taken with her every day.

One mermaid, two models

The statue owes its existence to the Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg beer fame. In 1909, Jacobsen visited the ballet The Little Mermaid, which is based on Andersen’s story. Leaving the theatre that night deeply moved, he asked the Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create an image of the mermaid. Jacobsen originally wanted the Danish prima ballerina Ellen Price to model for the sculpture, but she refused to pose naked. The body of the Little Mermaid was eventually modelled after Eriksen’s wife Eline, and only Price’s face adorns the statue.

The 1.25-metre artwork was unveiled in August 1913, part of an overall trend in Copenhagen to decorate city parks and streets with statues of classical and historical figures. The mermaid has since spent a century on her stone, although she has also travelled: She was lent to the Danish pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 for a few months.

Decapitated and copied

One thing that somewhat detracts from the story is that the statue in the port is actually a copy. The original is being kept by Eriksen’s heirs in a secret location. And that’s probably for the best – over the years, the mermaid has repeatedly been damaged and even beheaded. In 1964, the perpetrators were the politically engaged artists of the situationist movement. The head was remade, only to go missing again in 1998. Just like in a real crime novel, it was later anonymously delivered to a local TV station.

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