December 3, 2017
Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course
by Benedict Lopez*
The Little Mermaid to Copenhagen– The mermaid statue was created in bronze by Edvard Eriksen, and was unveiled in August of 1913.
Eriksen was commissioned in January 1909 by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Breweries to create the statue. Carl was fascinated by a ballet at the Copenhagen Royal Theatre based on the fairy tale about the mermaid, and asked the star of the ballet, Ellen Price de Plane, to model for the statue. Price declined modeling in the nude for the sculpture, and Eriksen enlisted his wife Eline Eriksen (who modeled for several other of his works) to model for the mermaid statue. A popular story has it that Price modeled for the face and Eline Eriksen for the body, but in actual fact Eline Eriksen was the model for the entire sculpture. This is easily seen when comparing the statue’s face with photos of Eline Eriksen, and the faces of Eriksen’s other statues.
This mermaid statue is one of the top tourist attractions in Copenhagen, and has become an icon and a symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark. While the story by Hans Christian Andersen was more than enough to make this mermaid statue known around the world, the Disney movies have only added to the fame and the appeal of this statue.
There are copies of the statue – with some differences – in a number of locations around the world, which in some cases are authorized by Eriksen’s heirs, and in other cases have been allowed to remain without specific authorization from the heirs.
The mermaid statue on display in Copenhagen is the actual original, but other copies and sizes were made as well – which is a good thing, as the original has been vandalized several times, and then lovingly restored using the copies. Several sizes are available for purchase at the official website for this most famous of all mermaid statues.
While the statue is often seen as being smaller than expected, it is actually larger than it appears, about 25% larger than lifesize. The spectacular location and the grand features of ocean, harbor and shoreline around the statue contribute to make it look small in comparison. The original statue here is the only true copy of the statue in this size – according to sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s will, only smaller copies may be produced, with Copenhagen Harbor having the only full-size statue.
Benedict Lopez is drawn to the simplicity, integrity and passion for the environment on display in Denmark.
Although I have visited Denmark several times since 2010, I always look forward to my next visit.
I feel comfortable being in the home of Carlsberg, not for the beer alone (although I enjoy a pint or two occasionally) but also for the core values of this country of 5.5m people – values I cherish as a human being.
Like in Sweden, discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation in Denmark.
On each visit, I observed as many things as possible as to what makes Danes the happiest people in the world. I personally believe it is the sense of security given to the citizenry by the state.
Sharply in contrast to citizens in many other countries around the world, Danes need not worry about the basic necessities in life like healthcare, education and social security as Denmark is a welfare state. This is made possible because of high taxes, accountability in public expenditure, little wastage, checks and balances in the system and virtually non-existent corruption.
Having travelled the length and breadth of the land of Hans Christian Andersen, I have observed many facets of Danish life. The virtues of the Danes may be summarised as follows: integrity, simplicity and passion for the environment.
Government ministers, civil servants and all public sector officials are held accountable for their actions. And when inefficiency, negligence and breach of fiduciary responsibility is highlighted, the minister or official concerned resigns immediately or is reprimanded. Transparency ensures that public expenditure is effectively scrutinised with any leaks in the system immediately plugged.
There is a high level of integrity among ordinary people too, and they seldom hoodwink or defraud others. Seldom does one read about any form of dishonesty, abuse of power or financial transgression.
Simplicity is a virtue the Danes are noted for. About a third of Copenhagen residents cycle to work and the rest take the train or drive to work. Most of those who drive have ordinary cars. In my six years traveling all over Denmark, I never once saw posh makes like Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari.
In sharp contrast to their Malaysian counterparts, chairmen, CEOs and managing directors of companies in Denmark usually drive to work on their own – without a personal driver. There are no special parking spaces reserved for them at their place of work. All staff park their cars in the same place. Meeting rooms are simple with ordinary tables and chairs; no expensive executive chairs even for the top brass in the company.
Just like in Sweden, simple dressing is the order of the day for the office and meetings, and most men wear a jacket without a tie. Their dress code contrasts conspicuously with many in the upper echelon in Malaysia, who have a passion for branded products and wait for the opportunity to display their opulence.
The offices of top management staff in companies are simple, quite unlike what you find in Malaysia. No posh office furniture. I have noticed this in many companies in Denmark over the years and this is something we Malaysians can emulate. In Denmark, people look down on you if you flaunt your wealth conspicuously.
I always take the flight to Billund, the home of Lego, via one of the European cities, and the one-hour drive to Julesminde is just awesome. I admire the beauty of the Danish countryside while passing through country towns along the way.
Each time after arriving in Juelsminde, a small town of less than 5,000 people, I immediately check into the guesthouse. Without wasting any time, I go for a jog on the beach in front of the guesthouse for an hour. The clean fresh air, unpolluted environment and early morning sunrise keeps me rejuvenated as I jog in the mornings and evenings.
I subsequently laze about outdoors reading a book with, of course, a glass of good wine beside me in the evenings, before I go for a satisfying Danish dinner with colleagues.
Danes are passionate about their environment and are moving at an accelerated speed towards zero dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. Much of Denmark’s renewable energy requirements will be met through wind, and wind farms are conspicuous on land and sea all over the country.
All through my travels in Denmark and my dealings with the Danes, I have observed one of their traits, and that is if you are honest and sincere with them, they respect you. I too was always candid in my dealings with them, constantly being the “unsubtle diplomat”.
After all, honesty is the mark of self-respect in any human being, and only those without this trait try and boost their self-esteem in other, less edifying, ways.
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries – not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.