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Fairytales come to life in renovated museum dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen

Denmark's H.C. Andersen House museum receives a fairytale makeover
Denmark's H.C. Andersen House museum receives a fairytale makeover   -   Copyright  Mette Risager   -  
By Theo Farrant  & AFP

Denmark is honouring its most famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, with a revamped museum that aims to immerse visitors in the fantasy worlds he created.

Visitors have expressed delight with the new museum, which reopened in the summer and saw renovation work completed in December before it was shut as part of Denmark's efforts to fight a COVID resurgence.

From 'The Little Mermaid' to 'The Snow Queen', Andersen's works - which the author called his "children" - have inspired countless Disney films, ballets, songs and books.

In a magical transformation that any fairy godmother would be proud of, city authorities have overseen a seven-year renovation of the museum into a sprawling complex above and below the cobbled streets of Odense's old town.

The museum "takes you to a complete other world", said Ara Halici, a tourist from the Netherlands who made the trip to Odense especially for the museum.

An ode to Andersen

Laerke Beck Johansen
Hans Christian Andersen was born in a tiny yellow house on a cobbled street in the centre of OdenseLaerke Beck Johansen

Andersen's life story is woven through the exhibits, which chart his humble beginnings as the child of an illiterate washerwoman and an impoverished shoemaker.

Born in 1805 and losing his father aged 11, Andersen left Odense three years later and headed for the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen, where he dreamt of becoming an actor.

By the time of his death in 1875, Andersen had produced 158 fairytales and 800 poems, enjoying success in later life thanks to the popularity of tales including "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Thumbelina".

Artefacts still have their place in the new exhibition, including the writer's inkwell and a champagne glass given to him by Jenny Lind, a Swedish singer who turned down his marriage proposal.

"A larger universe"

Laerke Beck Johansen
Museum-goers can get involved in Andersen's tales, such as searching for the pea that disturbs the princess's sleepLaerke Beck Johansen

After entering the redesigned museum, visitors move through the modest cottage where Andersen spent his childhood in the early 1800s, before being swept into a vast underground space devoted to his stories -filled with animations, interactive exhibits and music.

The new museum designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma - the man behind Tokyo's new Olympic stadium - opened in the summer but work was only completed in early December.

With two-thirds of the exhibition space below ground, the architect was inspired by 'The Tinderbox', Andersen's story in which a hollow tree is a gateway to an underground world.

"The idea behind the architectural design is similar to Andersen's method, where a small world suddenly transforms into a larger universe," Kuma said.

Work began in 2014 after the closure of a major road that left the space available for the new complex.

The old museum, which stood since 1930 in the house where Andersen was born, closed at the end of 2017.

Since the reopening, 40,000 people have passed through its doors. But the new Covid safety measures introduced in December meant it had to close once again, and the numbers had in any case been hit badly by the drop-off in foreign tourists.

Check out the video above for a sneak peek into the magical revamped museum