Danish Hans Christian Andersen museum gets a facelift

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ODENSE-Agence France-Presse

Denmark pays homage to its most famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, with a renovated museum that aims to immerse visitors in the fantastic worlds he created.

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Visitors rejoiced at the new museum, which reopened in the summer and saw renovations come to an end this month ahead of its closure as part of Denmark’s efforts to tackle a resurgence of Covid.

From “The Little Mermaid” to “Frozen”, the works of Andersen – whom the author called his “children” – have inspired countless Disney films, ballets, songs and books.

The former Hans Christian Andersen Museum in the writer’s hometown of Odense, central Denmark, was a “traditional biographical museum” filled with “a lot of artifacts and texts,” said Lone Weidemann, marketing coordinator Odense museums.

But visitors “were looking for his fairy tales, because that’s what they know.”

In a magical transformation any fairy godmother would be proud of, city officials oversaw a seven-year renovation of the museum into a sprawling complex above and below the cobbled streets of Odense’s old town.

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After entering the redesigned museum, visitors walk through the modest cottage where Andersen spent his childhood in the early 1800s, before being drawn into a vast underground space devoted to his stories – filled with animation, interactive exhibits and music.

The museum “takes you to another world,” said Ara Halici, a Dutch tourist who made the trip to Odense especially for the museum.

“How fantastic it is to be away from your daily struggles in life,” he said.

Arriving just days before Denmark closed cultural venues to fight a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, its story at least had a happy ending.

Andersen’s life story is woven through the exhibits, which trace her humble beginnings as the child of an illiterate laundress and an impoverished shoemaker.

Born in 1805 and losing his father at age 11, Andersen left Odense three years later and headed for the capital, Copenhagen, where he dreams of becoming an actor.

By the time of his death in 1875, Andersen had produced 158 fairy tales and 800 poems, finding success later in life thanks to the popularity of tales such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Pucette” .

Artifacts still have their place in the new exhibit, including the writer’s inkwell and a glass of champagne given to her by Jenny Lind, a Swedish singer who turned down her marriage proposal.

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“The rooms, as well as the architecture, the sound and the music – it’s quite an experience,” said Danish teacher Jonna Vind, who was there with a group of her students.

“It binds all the senses.

The new museum designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma – the man behind Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium – opened in summer but work was not completed until early December.

From above, its circular structures and winding outdoor gardens look like four green buttons propped up on wooden stilts.

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With two-thirds of the exhibition space in the basement, the architect was inspired by “The Tinderbox”, Andersen’s story in which a hollow tree is a gateway to an underground world.

“The idea behind the architectural design is similar to Andersen’s method, where a small world suddenly turns into a bigger universe,” Kuma said.

The museum’s metamorphosis began in the early 2010s after authorities in Odense drew up a plan to move cars away from the city center of 205,000 residents.

Work began in 2014 after the closure of a major road axis which left space available for the new complex.

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The old museum, which had stood since 1930 in Andersen’s birthplace, closed at the end of 2017.

Since the reopening, 40,000 people have passed through its doors. But new Covid security measures introduced in December have forced it to close again, and the numbers have been hit hard by the drop in foreign tourists anyway.

The former Hans Christian Andersen Museum welcomed 100,000 visitors a year, the vast majority of them from abroad, including 20,000 from China, where Andersen is very popular.


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