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Arland Fiske: Hans Christian Andersen house worth a visit

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columns Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Every visitor to Denmark should include a trip to Odense (pronounced "OH- denseh") on the island of Fyn, the home of Hans Christian Andersen. He is the best-known Dane in the world and one of the most famous storytellers of all time. To get there, one takes a bus or rents a car in Copenhagen and crosses the "Store (pronounced "STOHR) Belt," a sound that separates the Islands of Fyn and Sjaelland (pronounced "SHAY-land;" Zealand in English). It's a lovely two-hour ride on the ferry.

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The museum that houses Andersen's writings and the story of his life is a modest building for so famous a man, but it is laid out well and is a fascinating place to visit.

The museum, believed to be the house where Andersen was born, was founded in 1905, 100 years after his birth. Because so many artifacts have been gathered, it has been necessary to twice enlarge the building. It houses both his library and archives. For those who want to do research on his life, this is the place to visit. Original manuscripts of his writings are on display. I was interested in "The Emperor's New Clothes" with its corrections written in ink.

The museum follows a chronology of Andersen's life. His baptism and confirmation certificates are hung on the wall, as well as letters, report cards and the story how he went to Copenhagen and became a famous writer.

In one room, the visitor can use headphones to listen to his stories being retold in several languages by distinguished actors. Every known publication of his work in both Danish and in translation is found on the bookshelves. It's like reading his own autobiography, "The Fairy Tale of My Life."

The story takes place in a little house with three tiny apartments a few blocks away from where Anderson lived from age 2 to 14. His father was a shoemaker and they, like all their neighbors, were poor. The large domed hall in the museum has paintings that cover the wall and tell the story of his life.

Andersen was also noted as a visual artist. He was forever drawing pictures and making paper-cuts. Some of these are in the museum and they show many facets of his great imagination. Children loved watching him use a pair of scissors while he made paper-cuts in his later years. One of these is a "sun face" that has been reproduced in extra large size and hangs above the entrance to the museum. He was at his best when entertaining children.

Andersen did not own a house of his own. He preferred to live with friends or stay in a hotel. The museum has a room furnished with period furniture to show his study where he lived during his last years (1871-1875).

Two famous statues have been erected in Denmark. One of these is nearby the Hans Christian Andersen Gardens on the banks of the Odense River by St. Knut's cathedral. The other is in the King's Gardens in Copenhagen, across from the entrance to Tivoli Gardens. Another statue is being planned to be erected in the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, N.D..

As far as I can learn, Andersen was not overly anxious about money. He grew up in poverty. His wealth was in the stories that he gave to the world. They continue to excite and enrich both young and old.

An excellent volume of his stories is The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish edited by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank, with original illustrations. Houghton Mifflin Company 2003.

Next Week: Stockholm's "Gamla Stan"

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.

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