Inside Odense - Hans Christian Andersen's birthplace
“Is that Voldemort and a bunch of death eaters who just walked by,” I think to myself as I walk out of Odense station. I’ve just arrived in Denmark’s third largest city, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, and there’s a whiff of magic in the air.
My visit coincides with the “Magic Days of Odense”, a three day festival held during the autumn school holidays when magicians, acrobats and street performers transform the city into an enchanting playground for children.
The festival evolved from a Harry Potter day first held in an Odense library in 2001 which over the past 20 years has become one of the largest children’s festivals in Scandinavia, a fitting tribute to Hans Christian Andersen whose story telling genius is celebrated throughout this historic city.The great children’s author was born in 1805 in a humble one storey cottage which still stands and is in the heart of one of Odense’s most charming neighbourhoods. Until recently the cobbled lanes of brightly coloured half timbered cottages were cut off from the town centre by an ill conceived 1960s arterial road that completely bisected the city. This was shut down a few years ago and an attractive urban regeneration scheme of low rise housing, communal gardens and cycle lanes has successfully reintegrated the historic neighbourhood with the city centre.At the heart of the project stands the newly opened H.C. Andersen House, a museum dedicated to the life of the author, designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Kendo Kuma whose futuristic wood framed structures, including Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, form striking landmarks in many Far Eastern cities. He also designed the Dundee V&A. For this project Kuma was commissioned to create a series of magical immersive spaces where visitors can explore the many elements of Hans Christian Andersen's extraordinary imagination.
Externally, three curvaceous pavilions clad in honey-coloured larch, one with a rooftop garden, beautifully complement the village-like atmosphere of this quiet corner of Odense.Inside, I put on a pair of headsets and begin walking down a gently sloping spiral ramp pausing in galleries dedicated to different aspects of the author’s life. The audio guide places great emphasis on the art of story telling and many notable children’s authors and actors have contributed to the narration.
Especially absorbing is a gallery filled with holographic folk from Andersen’s fairy tales which relate follow up accounts of their lives while musing on various aspects of the human condition such as loss, betrayal and reinventing oneself.It becomes clear in the museum that Hans Christian Andersen had a difficult childhood during which he endured incessant bullying and extreme poverty. This is vividly illustrated in the cottage where he was born which has been cleverly incorporated into the new museum and where I’m shocked to learn that the three small rooms with low ceilings housed three separate families.
A ticket to the museum also includes entry to his childhood home which is located in a small alleyway close to Odense’s imposing brick gothic cathedral. With room for only one bed and a small desk, the cramped conditions forced Hans to spend long periods of his childhood playing by the nearby river where he developed his fertile imagination.
The river today winds through several kilometres of beautifully landscaped parkland which is dotted with sculptures from his famous fairy tales including the paper boat from the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Little Mermaid.After a beautiful autumnal walk in the park spent crunching through piles of fallen leaves and picking up chestnuts I head back to the centre to soak up the atmosphere of the Magic Days Festival.
On the lawn below the cathedral a quidditch stadium has been set up and families dressed up as their favourite Harry Potter characters are trying hard not to laugh as the young witches and wizards run around straining to become airborne on their Nimbus 2021 broomsticks. Outside the Town Hall a more down to earth hobby horse show jumping competition is in full swing which is surprisingly thrilling to watch and requires substantial skill from the young equestrians.
Along Odense’s main shopping street, fire eaters, magicians and medieval troubadours are keeping the crowds entertained while fairies on high stilts have to watch their wings as they walk under the city's newly installed Christmas lights.In the evening I head over to Storms Pakhus, a converted 19th century warehouse which is home to an outdoor stage, bars, and Odense’s best street food stalls.
Many of the characters from the festival are there, still in fancy dress, and when a local rock band starts a live performance I spot my old friends Voldemort and the Death Eaters playing air guitars in the front row of the audience.Neil stayed in the Hotel Odeon. Standard room inc breakfast, £129, www.hotelodeon.dkRyanair flies from Edinburgh to Copenhagen from £17 one way, www.ryanair.comTrains from Copenhagen airport to Odense start from £9 one way, www.dsb.dk
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