Alternatives to overcrowded, underwhelming tourist sites.
At Langelinie pier, the people are more interesting than the statue
If you love watching people, the area surrounding the “Little Mermaid” statue at Langelinie pier in Copenhagen is a smorgasbord of humanity. Tourists from around the globe arrive by bus, by bike and on foot, with many on shore excursions from cruise ships docked up the road. Meanwhile, vendors set up shop daily, selling “Little Mermaid” tchotchkes, sodas and ice cream.
But if you’ve come only to see the iconic sculpture by Edvard Eriksen that was unveiled in 1913, prepare to be seriously underwhelmed by its diminutiveness, especially when surrounded by onlookers. The four-foot-tall, bronze-and-granite sculpture perched on a rock just off the shore was a gift to the city from Danish brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen, who was moved to commission Eriksen after seeing a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. As the story goes, a mermaid gives up her voice in hopes of being united with a handsome prince on land. The tragic story took on a modern twist after an industrial area sprouted up across the harbor behind the mermaid’s perch, providing an unattractive backdrop.
Still, the sculpture is impressive for its longevity, having survived the Great Depression, German occupation during World War II and acts of vandalism including amputation, decapitation and several instances of being coated with paint. The “Little Mermaid” perseveres, welcoming people from around the world.
Location: Langelinie, Copenhagen
Just 45 minutes away: sculptures by Enrst, Miro, Calder and more
For a new and provocative twist on the classic “Little Mermaid,” check out “The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid,” only a 10-minute walk north along the water from its iconic inspiration. The twisted Picasso-esque abstract bronze figure is part of “The Genetically Modified Paradise,” a cluster of sculptures by artist Bjorn Norgaard that are meant to evoke discussion about genetic technology. Other altered images include Adam and Eve and Christ. The sculptures were originally designed for an exhibit at the EXPO 2000 World Fair in Hanover, Germany, and were installed in Copenhagen in 2006.
But if you’re truly craving more — and more refined — sculptures along the water, visit the stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Though it opened 60 years ago, it remains one of Copenhagen’s better-kept secrets, and is well worth the 45-minute train ride from the city. Situated in the former fishing village of Humlebaek, this world-class contemporary art museum contains four large wings, all stretching across the sculpture park, which is perched among hills leading to the waterfront. Some of the park’s 60 or so sculptures are easily spotted, while others are almost hidden, blending into the surroundings in evocative ways, such as “The Gate in the Gorge,” a two-piece site-specific work made by Richard Serra in the mid-1980s. Other notable sculptures include those by artists Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Jean Debuffet and Nobuo Sekine, as well as several from well-known Danes. After wandering the wings and grounds, take a deserved break in the Louisiana’s airy cafe, which features a large terrace with a view of the water, all the way to the Swedish shoreline.
Locations: “The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid,” Langelinie Allé 17, Copenhagen; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gammel Strandvej 13, Humelbaek, Denmark; 011-45- 491-907-19; louisiana.dk/en.
Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands. Her website is bydianedaniel.com.
More from Travel: