About an hour and half southwest of Copenhagen is Denmark’s third largest town, Odense, on the island of Funen. Not your typical tourist hot spot, especially amid a bitterly cold winter. While recently being a guest at the Langesø Castle, we drove into Odense to learn more about the area and one person in particular: Hans Christian Andersen.
Hopefully everyone knows who is he, although I’m not going to lie, the name was a mystery to me up until a few weeks ago. Perhaps you’ve heard of the following fairy tales all written by the Odense’s beloved town resident: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes and my personal favorite, Thumbelina, to name a few.
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A Short Biography on Hans Christian Andersen
Born on April 2, 1805 in Odense, quite possibly as an illegitimate son of King Christian VIII of Denmark, although this has yet to be confirmed. Hans Christian was introduced to literature by his father before his death and later his mother, an illiterate washwoman, sent him to a local school for poor children where he had to work as an apprentice, first to a weaver and then to a tailor to support himself. Odense was particularly afflicted by rampant poverty and child mortality rates and many of Andersen’s stories were born out of these extreme conditions, in which he often imagined an alternate world inspired by his daily life which we have all come to know and love.
Exploring Odense and Following in the Footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen
A noticeable whimsical air permeates every corner of Odense. Etched into the cobblestones are deep red footprints guiding you through the town in search of historical landmarks in connection to Hans Christian Andersen – the prolific 19th century Danish author, poet and artist. 13 iconic locations along the 3.1 km trail lead you to sites in the town which played a role in Anderen’s life and inspired many stories.
Narrow streets and alleys in an array of candy-colored cottages line the streets, some half-timbered, others made of red brick and peaked roofs with terracotta shingles. During the spring and summer months, you can imagine roses, violet flowers and white blossoms framing doorways and gardens, yet deep in the middle of a rather unusually cold winter, the floral decor has yet to emerge.
One gets the feeling that Odense is quite proud to be the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, a town with around 175,000 people blending reality with fantasy around every corner, as if the towns people existed between both worlds.
🎩 1. H.C. Andersen Museum
Begin your sightseeing in Odense at the H.C. Andersen Museum where you will pick up your 5 in 1 Ticket (220 Danish Krone = ~ 15€ per person) to Hans Christian Andersen’s life and childhood. The museum chronicles his personal and professional life from 1805 to 1875 when he died of liver cancer. One quickly discovers just how traveled Andersen was, traveling as far as Constantinople and even staying with Charles Dickens in England. As an avid traveler, he believed travel was an important part of life, a man after my own heart!
“Homesickness, I believe, is a serious affliction, but believe you me, “the urge to travel” is no less so.”
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
The museum displays intricate paper cuttings, as Andersen was fond of making paper cut outs, initially to be used as puppets. You also delve into his tumultuous childhood and complicated love life and catch a glimpse of what his study looked like by putting on virtual reality goggles. You’ll even find the bed of mattresses from the story “Princess on a Pea”.
Nearby, you’ll come upon the Radisson Hotel where you’ll find several sculptures of mermaids intertwined with other fabled characters from H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales, including the famed author just chillin’ like a villian!
🎩 2. H.C. Andersen Hus
Also known as Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace, a small ochre-colored cottage where he lived for two years with six other families in what was once the poorest part of Odense. Today, however, it is one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Now converted into a museum which chronicles more of his personal and professional life.
Although Andersen came from a very humble background, he managed to become one of the greatest writers that ever lived, writing more than 156 fairy tales as well as 14 novels, 50 dramatic works and over a 1000 poems as well as biographical works.
🎩 3. H.C. Andersen’s Childhood Home
Continuing on to where H.C. Andersen lived between the ages of two and 14, an ochre-colored half-timbered house with terracotta shingles. His former childhood home has been converted into a museum and you can catch a glimpse of what it was like to share this tiny, cramped home with multiple families. The garden in the backyard has been created to look like what H.C. Andersen had wished he had had as a child.
🎩 4. Møntergården
Not necessarily connected with H.C. Andersen per say, but here you can stroll through a museum of cultural history. Each house here was brought and reconstructed here and you can literally walk though the ages as each house grows progressively larger throughout the centuries. Here, you’ll find a children’s museum where youngsters can learn for themselves how it was like to live, work and play in the 19th century.
🎩 5. The Tinderbox
Unfortunately for us, having visited in the dead of winter, the Tinderbox, a cultural art center where children can re-enact H.C. Andersen’s stories by becoming the characters themselves, was closed, opening in again in May. A wooden stage for the children to prance upon in costumes and make up with props propels our favorite stories into a favorite past time in Odense. It was a true shame that we were not able to see this.
Other sights along the Hans Christian Andersen Trail:
🎩 The Workhouse: The charity school which H.C. Andersen attended is located on the first floor where he received instruction during his final years in Odense.
🎩 The Tin Soldier Statue: Nearby you can find the state of the Tin Soldier missing a leg, but if you look close enough his missing leg is used to keep cars off the pedestrian zone.
Do you know the story of the Tin Soldier?: On his birthday, a young boy receives a set of 25 toy soldiers cast from one old tin spoon. One soldier stands on a single leg as there was not enough metal to make him whole. The soldier spies a beautiful paper ballerina and she too is standing on one leg, immediately causing the soldier to fall in love with her. A goblin in a jack-in-the-box angrily warns the soldier to back off as he too is in love with the ballerina.
The next day, the soldier falls from a window and lands in the street where he is found by two boys who place him in a paper boat and sail him off in the direction of the gutter. A rat demands that the soldier pay a toll before continuing on. Suddenly, the tin soldier is swallowed whole by a fish, but is then cut open and the tin solider finds himself in the presence of the ballerina once again, on her top table. The young boy throws the tin soldier into the fire and a wind blows causing the paper ballerina to be consumed also by the fire. The next day when the maid cleans the fireplace, she discovers that the tin soldier has been melted into the shape of a heart, along with the ballerina’s spangle from her sash.
🎩 The Washing Site: Strolling along down a quaint little alley with charming little homes leads you to the washing site along the river where H.C. Andersen’s mother once worked as a washerwoman. The harsh conditions the mother endured are described in the story H.C. Andersen wrote about her titled “She was Worthless”.
🎩 H.C. Andersen Statue: A large bronze statue sits opposite the H.C. Andersen Haven (Eventyrhaven) and the winding Odense River. This part of the river is the deepest part of the river and according to a story written by Andersen, “The Bell-Deep”, a River-Man lives. The river was almost completely frozen over which shows you how unusually cold it was while we were in Denmark due to “The Beast from the East”. You’ll also find a statue in the shape of a paper boat floating in the river, once more symbolizing the story of the Tin Soldier.
🎩 The Prison: No, Andersen was never held in the prison but he was a frequent visitor as his parents were friends with the caretaker. The Prison is described in the story “O.T.” Andersen also later describes one of his earliest memories of a party at none other than the Prison, a place which he looked on with fear. It was a place of robbers and thieves and he often sat at a safe distance listening to the tales and songs.
🎩 The Odense Cathedral and Town Hall: Having been confirmed in the Odense Cathedral, Andersen would later be inspired to write the story “The Red Shoes”. Just opposite the cathedral, you can find a unique looking town hall where the citizens of Odense gathered to pay their tribute to Andersen when he was made an honorary citizen in 1867, the second ever, only after the King.
At the corner of the Town Hall, you’ll find Bryggeriet Flakhaven – a local brewery with copper boilers producing a variety of beers and whose goal it is to brew beer and cook food with beer in a Danish and French style. We popped in here and tried a variety beers. My husband went with the ales while I went with the stouts and porters.
🎩 The Hospital: Andersen often frequented the Grey Friars hospital complex where he would sit and listen to old stories and the ramblings of the insane, though he himself was also afraid of loosing his own mind.
🎩 The Castle: Andersen’s mother often took him with her to the castle where she worked as a wash woman. He often played with the future king, Frederick VII.
H.C. Andersen Events in Odense
Parades – Watch the Hans Christian Andersen parade daily during summer as well as the “20 Fairytales in 20 Minutes” show
Plays – Head to the open air museum, Funen Village for the H.C. Andersen Plays during the summer.
Festivals – With over 270 events which include cabaret, concerts and performances, you can catch the Hans Christian Andersen Festival during the summer.
Markets – A Christmas Market is held during the first two weekends in December in Odense’s old quarter.
- Visit Odense – for more information on visiting Odense
- Fairy Tale Sculptures in Odense – find a map of Odense along with the locations of all sculptures.
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