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Tale of woe for Denmark's Little Mermaid

National icon in harbor is blasted off her rock

COPENHAGEN -- After she went Hollywood, her native Denmark never really felt the same about her.

But even if all that fame had put Denmark's national icon, the Little Mermaid, on something of a pedestal, few in this nation believe she deserved to be so unceremoniously knocked from her perch.

The statue of the legend of the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, whose aquatic muse Disney transformed into an animated classic, was blown up last week. For 90 years, the Little Mermaid statue has looked out longingly at the Baltic Sea from atop a rock in the picturesque harbor. And in the years following Disney's 1989 film and heavy merchandising, the Little Mermaid has become a top tourist attraction.

But on Sept. 10, the bronze mermaid was blown off her rock with what police suspect was dynamite, with some pieces left in the shallow waters along the shore. Proving that the world is always fascinated when stars suffer tragic falls from grace, tour boats continue to circle just to view the rock from which she was blasted.

The police are taking the issue seriously. The Copenhagen Police Homicide Unit has been ordered to head the investigation. No arrests have been made, but there are suspects. Police say the blast caused $20,000 in damage to the statue, according to local media.

This is not the first time she's been treated so brutally. She's had her head chopped off twice, been spattered with red paint, sullied with dye, and humiliated in innumerable other ways.

"I don't know why she is being treated this way," said Signe Ebbesen, 25, a tour guide for DFDS Canal Tours.

"She's always been the biggest attraction in Copenhagen for tourists, especially for the Americans," Ebbesen said. "But now the tourists want to see the site more than ever. I guess they just can't believe it's true that she was blown up."

"I thought the locals were just winding us up when they said she'd been blown up," said Fiona Ramsay, a tourist from Stirling, Scotland, who snapped a photograph of the flattened black rock where the statue once stood. "So we came to see her, or actually not to see her, for ourselves."

Twenty-five years ago, the statue's head was cut off in a caper that caught the world's attention. Most Danes believe that the decapitation was carried out by a publicity-hungry artist who has kept the statue's head in a safe deposit box that can be opened only upon his death.

A few years ago her head was chopped off again. This time it was a freelance journalist who claimed to have broken the story of her decapitation, then provided exclusive photos of the head and purported to have the inside story on who had done it. He was charged with decapitating the statue and fabricating the whole incident to sell the story.

Jakob Svensen, national editor of Politiken, the country's leading newspaper, said that the latest on the Little Mermaid is that "she's recovering right now.

"We've been told by authorities she will be repaired and replaced atop her rock next week," he added.

But Svensen says the country's news media seem indifferent to her plight. His newspaper covered the latest vandalism with only a wire service story one day and a photo with a caption the next. Other Danish newspapersand television have also downplayed the story.

"The Little Mermaid is more a symbol for tourists, but not for Denmark," Svensen said. "She's not that beautiful. She's not that big. She is not art. She is a bit disappointing actually."

"The story of her destruction had some meaning the first time. But ever since then it is a copy cat story, and that is not that interesting. When they find out who did it, we will cover that."

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