In 2019, we travelled to Copenhagen. Day 2 was a whirlwind of fairy tale dreams coming true, theatre life in the Danish court, and the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten. Let’s dive right in!
If you missed it, check out Day 1 of my Copenhagen travelogue.
If you know me at all, then you know I’m a big fan of fairy tales. Castles, magic, princesses, I love it all, whether it’s the Disney-ized version of the tale or the (oftentimes much darker) original form. That’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about going to Copenhagen — Hans Christian Andersen!
For those of you who don’t know, Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author who wrote many of the classic fairy tales you’ve probably heard of and many more you may not have. He penned, among many titles, The Snow Queen (loose — very loose — inspiration for Disney’s Frozen), The Princess and the Pea (still waiting on that Disney adaptation haha), The Ugly Duckling, and, of course, The Little Mermaid.
I love The Little Mermaid. I love the Disney version, I love the original, love love love it. I love it so much, in university I wrote an English paper comparing and contrasting the two versions (and got an A — for Ariel of course). The Little Mermaid is definitely up there as one of my favourite fairy tales, so it was extremely important to me to gobble up every Little Mermaid thing I possibly could while in Copenhagen.
To start our second day in Denmark, we headed to the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale House. Now, to be fair, this attraction is definitely geared more towards children, so it was a little, shall we say, cheesy, even for me. I’d hoped to see things like original manuscripts of Andersen’s work, but alas, that is not what this attraction is about. It was still cute though, with little miniatures set up to reenact parts of the stories and displays teaching you about Andersen’s life.
The Fairy Tale House is connected to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibit, so we decided we might as well pop in there for a walkabout, since our visitor cards got us in there for free. (Note, if you find yourself in Copenhagen with a lot of attractions on your list, definitely get the Copenhagen Card, which lets you into tons of attractions for free, gives you free public transportation, and offers discounts on various tours for the duration of your card time. I love cities that have cards like this!)
Attractions like Ripley’s aren’t really my cup of tea, but there were some cool things there, like the genuine shrunken heads, which were interesting albeit creepy.
So far, our day had been so-so, but the day was only just gearing up. Our next stop was fascinating: the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre, located in the Christiansborg Palace. This day, we just visited the theatre, but we do return to visit the rest of Christiansborg later, not to worry.
The Theatre Museum was incredible! Christiansborg’s Court Theatre opened in 1767, making it the oldest theatre in Denmark, and one of the few structures to survive not one but both fires that ravaged the rest of Christiansborg Palace. It played host not only to theatrical dramas but to real life ones as well! In 1772, Queen Caroline Mathilde and her lover Johan Friedrich Stuensee were arrested and charged with lèse-majesté, which is classified as an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign (so, presumably, the queen cheating on the king in this case).
Although we didn’t witness any arrests while visiting, we did get to explore every nook and cranny of the place, and that’s just as exciting in my book. The theatre is completely open to explore, perfect for nosy parkers like me who like to see absolutely everything. We weaved our way onstage, offstage, backstage, from the uppermost balconies to the private boxes for the kings and queens, and every hallway in between. I think the only area that you can’t physically step into is the dressing room, but even that, you can still look inside. All over the place are costumes and dance shoes and the like to ooh and ahh over.
The theatre itself is also a very interesting design. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s not super big, but it is really long, much longer than it is wide. That goes for both the auditorium section and the stage itself — I couldn’t believe how far back the stage went. The length of the stage was no doubt a way to maximize the depth of scenery pieces, at least that’s my assumption.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the stage, though, was that it was slanted! Nowadays, you know what a theatre looks like: the stage area is flat, and the rows of audience seating raise gradually the further back you go, so that everyone can still see the stage. But this was not the case when theatres were first being built! Back in the day, the auditorium section was flat and the stage, called a raked stage, was tilted, so that upstage (the back of the stage) was higher than downstage (the front of the stage) — in fact, that’s why we call it upstage and downstage, because they were literally up and down. Imagine trying to dance in pointe shoes on a tilted stage! Yeesh.
This was the first theatre I’ve seen with a raked stage, although I’d read about them before, so I thought that was super cool. It was an extremely gradual slant though, so it wasn’t as if you were puffing your way up the stage.
What’s most unique about Copenhagen’s Court Theatre, though, is that it’s a mechanical stage. The floor (audience) level, was left in its regular lowered position for things like operas and plays, but when the theatre was being used for a masquerade dance, as it often was, they could raise the floor up until it was level with the stage, as well as level out the stage, giving them one extremely long, even dance floor. Pretty neat!
As much as I love theatre life, it was time to move on, but not before stopping for some food. We got our first (of many) taste of the infamous Danish hot dog, and man, was it ever good! Pickles and crispy onion bits and various mustards — yum! But it was an eat-on-the-go kind of situation because I was itching to get to the final attraction of the day, something I’ve been waiting to see practically all my life.
Finally, FINALLY, we made it to — HER. The statue of that loveable little mermaid herself — no, not Ariel! In Andersen’s original tale, our protagonist sea creature is never given a name, referred to only as the little mermaid.
The original tale resembles the Disney version most are probably familiar with, although there are some significant differences worth noting. First, as with all of Andersen’s tales, there’s a layer of religion soaked in. The little mermaid, in addition to wanting to earn the prince’s love, is also seeking an immortal soul, which mermaids do not have. When mermaids die, they turn to sea form and never go to heaven. If she can earn the prince’s love, however, she’ll become a human permanently and be granted a soul.
To do this, she makes a deal with the sea witch, who turns her into a human but takes her voice as payment. And when I say takes her voice, I don’t mean she pulls out a glowing orb from her throat with magical green stuff like in the Disney movie — no, in the original story, the sea witch straight up cuts the little mermaid’s tongue out of her mouth. On top of that, the transformation into her human form is incredibly painful for the little mermaid; when her tail splits into legs, it’s like a sword has cut through her. Even being human comes with its share of agony. Every step she takes feels like treading on daggers. But she’s willing to go through all of this for the prince and the chance at an immortal soul.
If she fails, however, and the prince marries another, she’ll be cast back into the sea and die instantly, breaking apart into sea foam.
Unlike the Disney version, there’s no happy ending for this little mermaid. Then again, it’s not exactly a sad ending either, depending how you look at it. The prince does end up marrying another, so the little mermaid really does die in this version — but because of her kindness, she’s given a second chance at earning an immortal soul. When she dies, she joins “the daughters of the air”, ethereal creatures who go around doing good deeds. After 300 years of being a good air bender, they’re granted their immortal soul. So the tale ends with the little mermaid’s second chance.
As I’ve said, The Little Mermaid has a very special place in my heart. I grew up with Ariel, then later studied the original little mermaid and fell in love with her even more. So there was no way I was going to go to Copenhagen and not visit the statue of the Little Mermaid. After admiring her steely gaze, I was ready for my photoshoot. My hair was red at the time and I wore my Little Mermaid top specifically for that visit, and felt part of her world instantly. It was a perfect way to end the day.
Stay tuned next week for Day 3 of our adventures in Copenhagen!
Or check out the rest of my travel blogs!