'Havfrue' ('Mermaid') – Copenhagen, Denmark - Atlas Obscura

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'Havfrue' ('Mermaid')

Copenhagen's "other" little mermaid marks the historic location of past sea maid sightings.  

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By the waterfront in Copenhagen sits a bronze cast of Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen’s 1921 statue, Havfrue (“Mermaid”), unveiled here in 2009. Despite being in a central spot, the sea maid remains relatively obscure compared to her internationally renowned counterpart, The Little Mermaid, located further up the harbor.

This “other” little mermaid has a haunting appearance, fear evident in her wide-open eyes and a desperate gasp for air as she emerges from the cold waters. Unlike the glamorous merfolk common in modern pop culture, Nielsen’s creation offers a more authentic portrayal reminiscent of historical descriptions of these mythical sea creatures as eerie and sometimes unappealing.

Nielsen’s statue is placed near the site of the long-demolished Mermaid Islet. This former stretch of artificial land, once located in the middle of the harbor passage (between what is now the Black Diamond Library and the Circle Bridge), earned its name from numerous reports by sailors of alleged mermaid sightings (or possibly misidentified seals) there.

In the late 1700s, the Mermaid Islet yielded to the demands of increasing maritime trade, resulting in its removal. Legend has it that since then, a spectral mermaid has haunted these waters, perpetually yearning for her lost territory. 

Know Before You Go

Havfrue is accessible around the clock and is located by the waterfront outside the Royal Library, better known as the Black Diamond (which houses Denmark's largest folklore archive). It is a 10-minute walk from the nearest metro station, Gammel Strand.

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