The Danish ballad, Agnete og Havmanden tells the story of Agnete, who leaves her family to start a new life in the sea with a merman, for a while… Since 1992 an underwater sculpture by the Danish artist Suste Bonnén has brought the story from fantasy into reality under a bridge in central Copenhagen.
The tale of Agnete and the Merman is a traditional Danish story that was originally passed down by oral tradition. As the story goes, a young woman named Agnete was passing by the sea when a remarkably forward and decisive merman emerged from the waters and offered her his hand in marriage. Being a spritely and impulsive girl herself, she dropped what she was doing and went to live with him beneath the waves. The couple had seven little mer-kids and things seemed to be going great until Agnete heard distant church bells ringing from land. She left her mer-family to pay a visit to her old life, promising to return. However once she was reacquainted with her old life Agnete decided not to return to the sea, leaving her merman to be a single dad, forever pining for his lost love.
The underwater sculpture stting beneath the Højbro Bridge, at the bottom of the Frederiksholm canal depicts Agnete’s husband and her abandoned children reaching up towards the surface, longing for their mother in a haunting scene captured in eternal bronze.
The eerie and incongruous site is easy to miss as one looks toward Christiansborg Palace and the Børsen, and dozens of tour boats pass by it every single day, but this subtle and imaginative piece of public art is definitely one of Copenhagen’s hidden gems.