Little Mermaid heads back to sea

Denmark 's world-famous Little Mermaid sculpture could be on the move…

Denmark's national symbol, the Little Mermaid sculpture overlooking Copenhagen's port, will likely head out to sea for the first time in nearly a century next year for a controversial visit to China.

The Copenhagen city council is expected to vote on Thursday to let the statue, inspired by a character created by Hans Christian Andersen in an 1837 fairytale, leave its historic perch to go on display at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

The decision is contentious in Denmark, where Edvard Eriksen's 1913 sculpture, measuring 125 centimetres and weighing 175 kilos, is considered a national heirloom and is today one of the Scandinavian country's main tourist attractions.

According to a recent poll, six out of 10 Danes think the sculpture should stay home, while Eriksen's grandson Erling has cautioned that "tourists coming to Copenhagen will be disappointed when they see the statue is no longer there."

Political opinion has also been divided, with the parliament spending hours on end last November debating a call from the far-right, nationalist Danish People's Party (DPP) for the Government to withdraw its request for the capital to lend out the sculpture.

Most of the parties however decided that sending the beloved bronze statue to China could help boost tourism throughout Denmark.

The city of Copenhagen, which owns the sculpture, has the last say in the matter.

"It is grotesque. No one would ever think of lending out the Statue of Liberty in New York or the Manneken Pis in Brussels," DPP Member Karin Noedgaard said.

"This sculpture is unique and its disappearance will be a great disappointment to thousands of tourists and will lead to losses for surrounding businesses," she said, pointing out that a copy of the sculpture could easily have been displayed in Shanghai instead of the original.

Niels Lund Petersen, the Architect of the Danish pavilion in Shanghai, however insisted that sending a cheap copy "would be kitsch. Only the original will generate true enthusiasm from the visitors."

That argument was meanwhile rejected by the head of the Danish Cultural Institute in Beijing, Erik Messerschmidt, who claimed "the Chinese don't care whether it is a copy or the original."

Lund Petersen's argument also falls on deaf ears in Danish Internet chat rooms and message boards, where news that the "old lady of the sea" would soon set sail has been overwhelmingly met with outrage.

"I thought it was an April Fool's joke when I heard the news," Pia Cramer Hansson recently wrote on the website of the free daily 24timer.

"I hope they will leave the Little Mermaid alone. She has suffered enough as it is from vandalism," she added.

Indeed, as a symbol of Denmark and everything Danish the sculpture has not been spared its share of hardship through the years.

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.