Hundreds of Danes braved the cold on Saturday to welcome home the city's beloved Little Mermaid statue from her eight-month trip to Shanghai, where she represented Denmark at the World Expo.
Many tourists looked on, flag-waving adults and children cheered and trumpets played as the iconic sculpture was ceremoniously reinstalled on her spot in Copenhagen harbour, which she had left in March for the first time in her 97-year history.
"Even though we were proud to send you to discover the world, we missed you, Copenhagen missed you, Denmark missed you, tourists from around the world missed you," Copenhagen mayor Frank Jensen said in speech in front of the statue, based on a character in a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen.
He then offered her a red flower, "her favorite colour" as welcome home present.
The Little Mermaid is considered a national treasure in Denmark and the decision to send her to Shanghai for the six-month World Expo was the subject of heated debate in Denmark. Opinion polls in Copenhagen showed a majority of residents were opposed to the idea.
"It was a shock for many people who came to visit you to notice you were no longer perched on your rock," Jensen acknowledged in his speech, adding he received a great amount of emails from residents upset she was sent away.
When the World Expo opened on May 1, the Little Mermaid was replaced by a video installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
It allowed visitors who continued to flock to the sculpture's spot in the harbour to look at the Mermaid in her temporary home, the Danish pavilion at Expo 2010, on a giant video screen.
Still, she was missed, said 80-something Lene Hansen, who told AFP she walked by her spot in the harbour every day.
"I'm so happy to see her back, and I'm not the only one," she said.
Nearby, pensioner Lone Petersen agreed it was a relief to see the Little Mermaid return.
"I never understood city hall's unreasonable decision" to send her away, she told AFP, adding she had come across many disappointed tourists this summer.
"Her place is in Copenhagen, not in Shanghai or anywhere else," she said.
But Mayor Jensen said the city could not have dreamt of a better ambassador for Copenhagen and for Denmark, adding that 5.5 million visitors visited the Danish pavilion in Shanghai to see Andersen's heroine.
Danish Economy Minister Brain Mikkelsen agreed, praising her "precious contribution" to the success of the Danish pavilion.
Indeed, the Little Mermaid's presence made it one of the Expo's most talked-about attractions in China, where schoolchildren read Andersen's stories.
The statue is so highly protected that details of her air transport to and from the World Expo, where she was set in the middle of a large pool of Copenhagen port water, were kept secret for security reasons.
The 175-kilogram (385-pound) statue by Edvard Eriksen was inspired by a character in Andersen's 1837 fairytale.
She was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the famous Carlsberg brewery, and has been a one of Denmark's main tourist attractions since 1913.
During the years of rebellion in the 1960s, the statue was upended, decapitated twice and lost an arm, while more recent protesters have resorted to covering it with a burka and a Muslim headscarf.
The Little Mermaid, who in Andersen's tale stands for innocence and love, has also been painted red, pink and green and had a dildo attached to her wrist.
Source: AFP Global Edition