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Denmark's Darling

I'm the most popular mermaid in the world, for I am The Little Mermaid at Langelinie in Copenhagen - graceful, inscrutable and green with patina.

The entire day, tourists have been admiring and snapping me, but now it's late, and even though my body is shining in the dim light of the lanterns, no one pays attention to me. Possible latecomers must content themselves with my substitute who will take over my big stone presently, after swimming all the way from the old Nyhavn harbour.

Off the Rock

My eyes are said to be looking for the prince whom, according to Hans Christian Andersen, I never got. Actually, I have a prince. He's standing on the the opposite side of the road drying himself with a towel, atop a marble plinth bearing the inscription "After the Swim". Seeing me glide down from my stone, he throws away his towel and dives into the sea to go swimming with me. Our destination is Nyhavn.

Endowed with a fish tail and a slim body of 165 centimetres, I should be a born swimmer. To be honest, I have problems keeping myself afloat due to my weight, 175 kilos, so I appreciate the encouraging winks from the house with the blue eyes. A light blue flag with a white star is all that reveals whose head office the secretive white building with the characteristic windows is: Moller-Maersk Group, one of the world's major shipping companies.

A bronze colleague, stark-naked David, is waving at us from his plinth outside the West-Indian Warehouse, housing the Royal Cast Collection, plaster copies of famous sculptures. The next two warehouses, however, have been converted into luxury appartments. The hydrofoils between Malmo and Copenhagen no longer disturb our daily swim as they have been put out of business by the new Oresund Bridge.

A Royal Axis

At the Amaliehaven garden, we take a breather in the water to enjoy the sight of the royal residence, Amalienborg, where four palaces congregate symmetrically round an axis, at the end of which the domed Marble Church stands. At the opposite end of the axis, over on Holmen, a new opera building has shot up, donated by big business in the house with the blue eyes. A spectacular hotel, on the waterfront, was unmistakably once a warehouse.

At long last, Nyhavn comes into view, the canal on the right hand, with proud old wooden ships rubbing against each other. In the good old days, Nyhavn was synonymous with rough and lively harbour joints, rendezvous for sailors and prostitutes who have retired long ago, though. Expensive restaurants and trendy cafes have taken over, turning Nyhavn into one long outdoor cafe during the summer. The old buildings are kept in repair, also the houses where my originator, Hans Christian Andersen, used to rent a room.

National Jewel

In the fish restaurant Havfruen, named after me, I assume my substitute's regular position - horizontally suspended above the bar counter. Although conceived in one and the same fairytale, she and I are widely different: I'm cast in precious metal, she's merely carved out of a log found in the harbour. While lounging here, I don't mind people's curious looks since they often buy me a quick one. My prince, on the other hand, looks displeased. "You receive all the attention," he bursts out, "no one ever notices me!"

The prince ought to know how exceptional my position is. I was born in 1913, lived anonymously till after the war, was then launched in the tourist propaganda as the national jewel of Denmark. Today, I'm topping every must-see list, and each time I lose my head, my picture adorns front pages worldwide. Two years ago, my 90th anniversary, commotion reached new heights. Not to mention this year, 2005, the year the writer of fairytales would have been 200. "Retire!" my prince pleads. Never in my life, I know my duty and intend to remain at my post until I sink into the sea.

Business as Usual

My head is feeling heavy as I jump up onto my big stone again, after a rather boozy evening. I turn my face away, uncomfortable at the thought of yet another day of incessant photographing and offensive pawing and climbing. On such a day, my only amusement is to give the daredevils a push, causing them to lose their balance and get wet socks when leaping out to me.

I'd like to direct everybody's attention to the prince or to his neighbour on the lawn, "The Swimmer", dressed in a loincloth, watching the marina with his arms folded. Instead of bothering me, the tourists should take a walk along the Langelinie pier, stroll on the green ramparts of the well-preserved fortress Kastellet, eat today's special cake in the Langelinie Pavilion or buy tasteless souvenirs at the kiosk - mermaids in any size and colour, keyrings, bottle openers and oil lamps with a mermaid mounted.

However, everything is as usual. Packed doubledeckers arrive one after the other, and while the guides of the canal tour boats are making jokes at my expense, I'm exposed to climbing young people who don't stop until they sit on my shoulders. I almost wish that someone would chop off my aching head.