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Culture

H.C. Andersen Fervor Hits Denmark

On Saturday, Denmark kicks off its bicentennial celebrations around author Hans Christian Andersen. The nation has entered fairytale frenzy and Denmark's leaving no stone left unturned when it comes to its native son.

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An icon in Denmark, celebrated in grand style in 2005

His fairytales are classics around the globe and in Denmark he's a national hero. Now the author of "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Mermaid" is being feted like royalty this year on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

It promises to be a year of all things Andersen in Denmark, and images, words, and performances around the 19th century writer are just about everywhere in this tiny Scandinavian country.

There are Andersen likenesses on coins, beer labels, dinnerware and baby clothes. Excerpts from his diaries have been published every day in one of the country's leading newspapers. A television series about the life of the writer as a young man ran in March.

Hans Christian Andersen

On Saturday, a huge show will be broadcast in 15 countries from Denmark's national soccer stadium. It will feature performances by pop singer Olivia Newton-John, US singer Tina Turner, French musician Jean-Michel Jarre and opera Star Renee Fleming, among others.

The concert kicks off a string of 3,000 events worldwide that will run throughout the year which, according to the H.C. Andersen Foundation 2005, are aimed at broadening awareness of Andersen and his works beyond the "idealistic and narrow image of this fairytale writer for children of all ages."

Andersen statues will be unveiled in Vietnam; New York schools will hold fairytale competitions; and Australia will put their puppets to work in performances of Andersen stories.

"Two centuries after his birth, he is still not widely recognized as being the world-class writer he doubtless was, just as important a representative of the transition from Romanticism to early Realism as his -- incidentally well-known -- contemporaries Honore de Balzac or Victor Hugo," foundation secretary general Lars Seeberg told AFP.

Prominente Gäste zum 200. Geburtstag von Hans Christian Andersen

From left to right: Roger Moore, Princess Benedikte of Denmark, actress Bodil Udsen of Denmark, and Harry Belafonte are seen at the opening of the celebrations to honor the 200th birth anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen Thursday March 31, 2005 in Copenhagen. Belafonte, Udesn and Moore are Hans Christian Andersen goodwill ambassadors.

A whole gaggle of celebrities are also getting in on the Andersen act. Roger Moore of James Bond fame and crooner Harry Belafonte have been tapped as goodwill ambassadors for the festivities, along with Chilean author Isabel Allende, several European royals and the first ladies of Mexico, Chile and Egypt.

Poverty to fame

Denmark's most famous author was born on April 2, 1805 in Odense, some 160 kilometers (99 miles) east of Copenhagen.

Hans Christian Andersen

He was born into poverty, the son of a cobbler and a cleaning woman, but like his "Ugly Duckling," he rose above his birth, dying a famous and comfortable man in 1870 in the Danish capital.

While he is primarily known for his widely translated fairytales, he wrote 212 of them, he also penned 62 novels, dramas and other pieces of prose. In his spare time the prolific Dane also wrote 23 travelogues, four autobiographies, six biographies, more than 1,000 poems and dozens of articles and letters.

Although he eventually did gain fame in his home country, he was not an overnight success there when his fairytales were published. He first achieved renown in Germany and the rest of Europe before Denmark woke up to his talent.

German author Günter Grass, the 1999 Nobel Literature laureate who published a book of drawings based on Andersen tales, says he was influenced by the Dane's style of realism mixed with the imaginary.

Hans Christian Andersen - 200 Geburtstag

Günter Grass drawing

"The tales, which often don't have a happy ending, show that he was in fact really writing for adults," he said.

Meerjungfrau in Kopenhagen

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen

In fact, many of his fairy tales are fairly morbid. In "The Little Mermaid," the mermaid becomes mute because a witch cuts off her tongue in exchange for legs to replace her fish tail. Other stories feature marital infidelity and life in a brothels. Death features prominently in several.

Andersen overkill?

For a few critics, all the attention lavished on the writer is a bit much. To John de Mylius, an associate professor with the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark, said he regretted the "commercialization" of the writer, which in his mind, takes away from the focus on the poet Andersen.

Buchcover: Andersen - Hans Christian Andersen

Book cover: Jens Andersen - Hans Christian Andersen

"He has been smothered in a marketing campaign for Denmark," he told the Associated Press.

But the Danish government is standing behind the celebrations, and has, with the help of local sponsors, raised a budget of $41 million (31.8 million euros) to cover the costs of the jubilee. The government is calling it a "unique opportunity to strengthen Danish cultural tourism."

Denmark's popular queen, Margarethe, recently suggested that Andersen was one of the greatest Danes of all time, or perhaps at the very top of the list.


"He was exceptional," she said. "And Danes rarely are."

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