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Mermaid's trip to Shanghai irks Copenhagen tourists, lawmakers  Sep 25, 2008

Copenhagen's bronze mermaid, the 95- year-old national monument that's suffered graffiti, severed limbs and decapitation, is causing another fuss in Denmark.

The city plans to attract tourists by exporting the 1.25 meter (4 feet, 1 inch) mermaid from its home rock in the harbor to a Shanghai exhibition, the 2010 World EXPO, for six months. As many as 3 million tourists visit the figure each year, the capital's tourist board estimates.

While the government bets the mermaid, which was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, may boost Denmark's brand abroad and draw business from one of the world's fastest-growing economies, the plan is sparking outrage among local traders and nationalist politicians. Denmark's People's Party, the third- largest group in parliament, wants to block the mermaid's trip, saying it would damage the city's reputation.

``How would people of New York feel if they decided to move the Statue of Liberty to China?'' says Karin Noedgaard, the People's Party spokeswoman on cultural affairs. ``This is a catastrophic idea.''

Danes have had a love-hate relationship with the mermaid since the figure was donated in 1913 by Carl Jacobsen, son of J. C. Jacobsen, who founded brewer Carlsberg A/S.

Her head was chopped off in 1964, in an attack which may have been carried out by artists belonging to the Situationist movement, according to a Danish Web site which tracks the mermaid's history.

Vandals severed one of the mermaid's arms in 1984, an assault which was followed by another decapitation in 1998. Unknown assailants removed her from her rock on Sept. 11, 2003, possibly with the use of explosives, police said.

`Exchange of Culture'

The statue has also been targeted by feminist groups, which painted a bra and underwear on the mermaid and colored her hair. Four years ago she was draped in a burqa by demonstrators protesting the possible accession of Turkey to the European Union. Each time the town has restored the mermaid.

Most Danes oppose the relocation, with 69 percent voting against it in an Internet poll of 5,647 participants published on broadcaster TV2's Web site. Both TV2 and tabloid B.T. have set up blogs where Danes can debate the move.

In Shanghai, the mermaid will sit in a pavilion surrounded by a pool of sea water imported from the Copenhagen harbor. Guests can borrow swim suits and take a dip, or ride bicycles on lanes similar to those across Copenhagen. As many as 70 million people may visit the Expo, where scientists and companies show new technologies, the organizers of the Shanghai show say.

``It would be disrespectful to send a copy of the mermaid,'' said Bjarke Ingels, the architect behind the project. ``This is an exchange of culture and we want to present to the Chinese people the finest we can offer.''

`Represents Copenhagen'

The statue celebrates the 1837 fairy tale by Andersen, Denmark's most translated author. Walt Disney Co. adapted the story into a 1989 cartoon feature film. During the mermaid's absence, three Chinese artists will display modern interpretations of the figure in Copenhagen's harbor.

``The mermaid really represents Copenhagen,'' says Eleanor Liboiron, 70, a Canadian retiree, gazing at the figure. ``The first thing tourists do is walk down here.''

Danish companies sponsoring Denmark's Shanghai pavilion include Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world's biggest wind turbine maker, and A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the largest container line.

``The project captures the positive elements that the Chinese relates with Denmark,'' Michael Dithmer, spokesman for the Danish Business Ministry said in a Sept. 10 statement.

The Danish People's Party is pressing the government to send a copy of the mermaid to Shanghai instead. Noedgaard said she expects a final decision by the end of the year.

``Many people here depend on the mermaid,'' said Karina Nielsen, who runs a harbor store selling snacks and miniature mermaid statues to tourists. ``We would need something like the Eiffel Tower as a replacement.''

Mermaid's trip to Shanghai irks Copenhagen tourists, lawmakers

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