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The fairy tale of the Little Mermaid

The mermaid who traded in her tail for legs out of love but had to give up her voice to the evil sea witch. Everybody knows the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story in 1836. As a tribute, there is a sculpture of the Little Mermaid at the Langelinie Quay in Copenhagen.

There she sits on a granite stone in the old harbour district of Nyhavn. The Little Mermaid has unintentionally become one of the most popular attractions in Copenhagen – every day dozens of visitors flock here to take their picture with the statue. The sculpture owes its existence to Danish Brewer Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg beer. In 1909 he attended a ballet performance of the Little Mermaid, based on the story of Andersen. Jacobsen left the theatre deeply impressed with the fairy tale and asked Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create a statue of the Little Mermaid.

Statue of the Little Mermaid
Statue of the Little Mermaid


Hans Christian Andersen

A tragic love story

The Little Mermaid tells the sad story of a young mermaid who saves a prince from drowning at sea during a storm. She falls madly in love with him and wants to trade the ocean for dry land. To find her prince, she gives up her voice in exchange for a pair of legs. She has 3 days to receive his passionate kiss so she can transform into a human being. If she fails to be kissed, she will turn into sea foam. The prince is captivated by her appearance but fails to recognize her - he only remembers being saved by a girl with a magical voice. Eventually he marries someone else. Broken hearted, the Little Mermaid throws herself off a cliff and turns into sea foam.
The statue has a rich history

One mermaid, two models

Jacobsen was keen to have Danish prima ballerina Ellen Price be the model for the sculpture but she refused to pose nude. Eventually the body of the Little Mermaid was modelled after Eriksen’s wife and Price lent her face to the sculpture’s head. The 1.25-metre sculpture was unveiled in August of 1913 and fit in with Copenhagen’s trend at the time of decorating the city’s parks and streets with sculptures of classic and historic figures.

Beheaded and copied

It takes away some of the magic, but the statue in the harbour is actually a copy. The original is stored in an undisclosed location by Eriksen’s heirs. And that is probably a good thing. Through the years, the little mermaid has been damaged several times and has even been beheaded - in 1964, politically engaged artists of the Situationist movement decapitated the statue. Her head was reattached but went missing again in 1998. Like in a real crime story, the head was later returned anonymously to a local TV station.
The Mermaid has been beheaded several times