Copenhagen's Tell-Tale Fete

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Author Hans Christian Andersen towers over the literary landscape of his Danish homeland. With this year marking the 200th anniversary of his birth, Denmark is giving the red-carpet treatment to the storyteller, who introduced the world to beloved figures including the Little Mermaid and the Little Match Girl. In Copenhagen, there's a huge roster of exhibits, performances and multimedia extravaganzas. Plus, the city where the writer spent much of his life has a host of Andersen-related sights.

THE TOP TICKET: The marquee event is "Once Upon a Time," a gala at Copenhagen's Parken Stadium (50 Oster Alle) on April 2, the author's birthday. Bringing together a sea of celebs -- including Kenneth Branagh, Susan Sarandon, Harry Belafonte, Matt Dillon and others -- the spectacle will pay tribute to the author and bring to life 12 of his best-known tales.

Tickets ($60-$455) are being sold at Danish post offices and through Billetnet (011-45-70-15-65-65, http://www.billetnet.dk/).

OTHER EVENTS: The Tivoli Gardens amusement park is hosting a pair of Andersen-inspired performances. "A Tivoli Fairy Tale," running May 14-Sept. 25, is a half-hour show incorporating fireworks, dancers and massive puppets in retelling classic Andersen stories. Performances daily (except Fridays and during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, July 1-10) at 10 p.m. Also, a ballet version of "Thumbelina" will run a few nights a week July 14-Sept. 1 in the Tivoli Pantomime Theater. The performance features costumes and sets designed by Danish Queen Margrethe. Both shows are free with paid admission to the park (http://www.tivoli.dk/; $12 for adults, $6 for children).

The tragic story of Andersen's famous half-fish heroine (without the sunny Disney ending) will be told in a massive musical version of "The Little Mermaid" held on a floating stage next to the Royal Library Slotsholmen, affectionately called the Black Diamond. Featuring 14 original songs and a cast of hundreds, the show will run twice a day Aug. 4-7. Tickets will cost around $20 and be available through Billetnet (see above). Show details: http://www.kulturhavn.dk/.

SIGHTS: The Little Mermaid lives eternally in Copenhagen Harbor, just off the seaside street called Langelinie in Churchill Park. Perhaps the country's most famous tourist spot, the bronze mermaid rests mournfully on her rock, just offshore.

The equally compelling story of her creator, who was born into poverty, unfolds inside a storybook-shape museum built for the bicentennial outside Rosenborg Castle. "The Greatest Fairy Tale" (about $10), open from early April through Aug. 31, is a multimedia journey through Andersen's life. Details: www.unitedexhibits.com/exhibits.asp?exhibit=hca.

More memorabilia and plenty of favorite Andersen characters are permanently on view at the Wonderful World of Hans Christian Andersen (57 Radhuspladsen, 011-45-33-32-31-31, http://www.hcandersen.com/; $14). Opened last year, the museum occupies one of the author's former residences.

Andersen's final resting place is in Assistens Kirkegaard, a cemetery in Copenhagen's Norrebro neighborhood. Other great Danes buried there include philosopher Soren Kirkegaard and physicist Niels Bohr.

SLEEPS: Don't get stuck in the cold like the Little Match Girl. Instead, try holing up at the Hotel d'Angleterre (34 Kongens Nytorv, 011-45-33-12-00-95, http://www.remmen.dk/; doubles from $430), a favorite lodging of the author, who never owned his own home. Across the square is the Royal Theater, where the teenage Andersen struggled -- unsuccessfully -- to gain work as a performer.

Next to the harbor, the much-photographed Nyhavn district was also a frequent home of Andersen. Today the historic docks house numerous quaint pubs and shops, as well as 71 Nyhavn Hotel (71 Nyhavn, 011-45-33-43-62-00, http://www.71nyhavnhotel.com/; doubles $295), an upscale historic property with a nautical feel.

FOOD AND DRINK: Stop into Hviids Vinstue (19 Kongens Nytorv), which dates to the 1720s and was probably frequented by the writer. More closely linked to Andersen is the nearby Cafe a Porta (17 Kongens Nytorv), where he lived two floors above the space from 1866 to 1869. One of the author's favorite spots was Grandjean's Patisserie, now called Restaurant Els (3 Store Strandstrade), an 1850s establishment that retains its 19th-century decorative touches.

GETTING THERE: Lufthansa, United, SAS, British Airways and Alitalia offer service from the D.C. area to Copenhagen. Round-trip fares, with restrictions, start at about $525.

INFO: Wonderful Copenhagen, 011-45-70-22-24-42, http://www.woco.dk/. Hans Christian Andersen 2005, http://www.hca2005.com/.

-- Seth Sherwood

© 2005 The Washington Post Company