After 97 years spent lounging in Copenhagen’s Langelinie Quay, this March she was shipped some 5,100 miles away to capture the hearts and, eventually, tourist dollars of millions of Chinese visiting the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China. She would be missed, and many Danes didn’t approve of her trip, but her voyage abroad proved to be a resounding success: over the course of her six-month assignment, Denmark’s most-famous resident was seen by more than 5.5 million people, or 30,000 a day, according to The Copenhagen Post.
The Little Mermaid, imagined by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 and sculpted by Edvard Eriksen in 1913, had done her job well, and on a wintery Saturday afternoon in late-November she made her triumphant return home; hundreds of cheering, bundled-up Danes were there to greet her as a crane lowered her back into the harbour. A week later and like millions before me over the years, I was fortunate to see Denmark’s famous enchantress for myself in person.
The snow hadn’t let up since the moment our cramped flight on Iceland Air touched down at Copenhagen Airport two days earlier, and on the morning of our planned visit, biting-cold winds added to the unseasonably early winter fun. No matter: after filling up on our cozy hotel’s typically delicious European breakfast spread (strong cheeses, fresh bread, scrambled eggs, potatoes, pancakes, Nutella), we set a course due north, trekking along the iced-over sidewalks of Toldbadgade and through the slush-covered grounds of Amalienborg Palace.
My high-top sneakers were soaked through within minutes, and I thought about how Luke Skywalker must have felt stumbling through the snowy abyss of Hoth after escaping the wampa; unfortunately, nobody was around to shelter me in the warmth of Tauntaun guts. Undeterred by the elements, we pressed on up Amaliegade until we reached Churchillparken, located in the northeastern corner of Copenhagen.
I’ve been to Scandinavia once before, spending four nights in Oslo exactly seven years prior to my Denmark visit; November isn’t exactly the high-tourism season in Copenhagen, but obviously I don’t mind winter travel to wintery destinations. After all, lounging on a Caribbean beach in late November is just so cliché.
As we passed vacant St. Albans Church, built in 1885 and still the only Anglican chuch in the country, I forgot about the frostbite settling into my toes for a moment and was reminded why I find this time of the year so captivating. The blinding blizzard briefly turned to a gentle snowfall, the wind slowed from insufferable to tolerable, and all was suddenly quiet: save for a lone (and clearly insane) jogger carefully picking her way across the ice, we were alone in a postcard-perfect portrait of winter in Copenhagen.
We were getting close to the city’s “little leading lady”, walking along the shore of Copenhagen Harbour, laughably freezing winds blowing into our numbed-red faces, and snow coating us like white sprinkles on a frosted Christmas sugar cookie. Finally, there she was, the world’s most-famous mermaid and Denmark’s summer ambassador to China. I clambored down the rocks, cozied up as close to her as possible, and smiled for the camera.