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Statue finds a 'spiritual' home

THE Little Mermaid might be 8,721 kilometers from her harborside perch in Copenhagen, but her temporary residence at the Shanghai World Expo is a spiritual home for the bronze beauty, says the Denmark Pavilion designer Bjarke Ingels.

"Why did we send the Little Mermaid to China? Because we realized that she has become part of Chinese culture," Ingels said.

During the competition to design the pavilion, Ingels' team compared Danish and Chinese cultures and found a large overlap.

"In China's public school curriculum, you have three fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen. That means all Chinese have grown up with the naked emperor from The Emperor's New Clothes, the Little Match Girl and the Little Mermaid," Ingels said.

"So the Little Mermaid is almost like a little part of Danish culture that had been integrated into Chinese culture," he said.

"We thought it would be exciting for China's 1.3 billion people to be able to experience the Little Mermaid in real life."

The Little Mermaid is the story of a young mermaid who wants to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a human prince. However, the prince marries another woman.

Given the chance to kill the prince in order to return to her mermaid form, the Little Mermaid instead jumps into the sea and dissolves into foam.

Danish sculptor Edward Eriksen created the 1.25-meter tall statue in 1909 and since then she has been sitting in Copenhagen harbor, where she is a national treasure and major tourist attraction.

"Most countries have a tower, or a castle, or great wall as their national symbol and we have this cute little girl, sitting on a stone in the harbor. It is very unusual and very relaxed," Ingels said.

The pavilion is conceived as a double spiral, and visitors can walk or ride a bicycle up the paths and down again.

In the center of the pavilion is a "harbor" filled with seawater from Copenhagen.

"I thought it would be beautiful to place the Little Mermaid in the middle of the harbor," he said.

Children are allowed to play in the water and touch the Little Mermaid statue.

Ingels installed a film of the moving of the Little Mermaid.

"This is her first, probably last, trip away from Denmark," Ingels said.

He argued strongly to persuade Danish authorities that it was a good idea to let the Chinese people see the statue.

Ingels said Anderson had a famous saying: "To travel is to live."

"Anderson liked to travel. A lot of his books are travel books. The Danish mermaid will have an experience like Anderson," he said.

He invited Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to install a camera in the pavilion, transmitting live pictures to a gigantic screen on the site where the mermaid normally sits in Copenhagen.

"It's also like a window into Shanghai. People will see where she is in Shanghai and see the lives around her. If you have something to say to the people of Copenhagen, all you have to do is talk to the Mermaid."

Contemplating the lasting implications of her visit to Shanghai, Ingels grins: "Someone said maybe she will meet another prince here."


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