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Odense Celebrates 10 Centuries

March 13, 1988|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

ODENSE, Denmark — Hans Christian Andersen wouldn't believe what's going to happen in his home town this year.

For starters, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will be here March 18 with the Royal Family to begin Odense's 1,000th birthday party.

Andersen wasn't afflicted with false modesty. At the height of his career, when his fairy tales were being translated into many languages, he predicted they would draw visitors from around the globe to Odense for centuries to come.

But Queen Margrethe is more than a tourist, and the events planned for this year may be a bit beyond even one of the greatest imaginations of the 19th Century.

After the queen arrives at city hall to declare the 1,000th birthday celebration officially under way, the first day of parades, dancing and fireworks will go on until midnight.

The next morning the queen will inaugurate the Carl Nielsen Museum, dedicated to the world-famous Danish composer whose life ended in 1931. Nielsen was born just outside Odense, and spent his childhood here. The museum, part of the new Concert Hall complex, will present the story of his life and works.

Close to His Heart

On April 30 Odense will host the European Ballroom Dancing Championships. May 15-22 participants from many nations will come here for an event that would have been close to the heart of Andersen: the International Children's Theater Festival and Seminar.

June 1 is the beginning of the International Carl Nielsen Violin Competition for young violinists, ending with a finale concert June 9.

During that same week one of the world's great sailing events will take place--the Fyn Rundt around Funen, Odense's idland. In keeping with the birthday year, 1,000 boats will take part in the race.

The week beginning July 31 will feature the Multimusic Festival, with Denmark's best musical groups playing in the streets of Odense, all gathering Aug. 4 for a giant street party.

Autumn festivities will begin Sept. 29 with the International Organ Competition on Odense's acclaimed Marcussen organs.

The Hans Christian Andersen Museum on Hans Jensens Straede has been specially prepared to tell its story of a poor Odense boy whose fairy tales came to be translated into more languages than any other writings except the Bible and William Shakespeare.

Tours of Boyhood Home

There will be daily tours of his boyhood home on Munkemollestraede, where he lived for 14 years. You can stroll narrow streets in self-guided Fairy Tale Walks among the old houses that helped bring to life the Danish folk tales told to young Hans by his mother, who was a 38-year-old washerwoman when she gave birth to him two months after her marriage to a 23-year-old cobbler. Hans' father was a moody dreamer and ex-soldier from the Napoleonic Wars who read endlessly to his son.

Throughout the summer, Andersen's plays will be performed in nearby Funen Village at the open-air theater that seats 2,500. In the village, life will be re-created as it was 200 years ago. There is a school and parsonage, a smithy and a windmill, plus sheep, cows, horses and pigs.

One of the largest exhibitions in Europe this year will be Odense's "Byg & Bo '88," the story of "Women Through 1,000 Years." To meet the women as well as the men and children of Odense, the city tourist association will arrange evenings for visitors in homes.

Letter of Protection

How does Odense come to be celebrating a 1,000th birthday this year? On March 18 in the year 988, German Emperor Otto wrote a letter of protection to the local bishop, exempting Odense from imperial taxation. It was the first recorded mention of Odense.

Odense is a city of 170,000, with the Hans Christian Andersen quarter and the treasures of St. Knud's Cathedral mixing with cultural centers, streets for shopping, cafes, hotels, small inns and parks.

The 1,000th birthday celebrations in Odense will coincide with Denmark's nationwide exhibitions to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the ascension to the throne of Christian IV. He was Denmark's "Builder King" of famous castles, a patron of the arts and collector of jewels, one of Europe's wealthiest monarchs.

Ten collections and memorabilia of his era will be exhibited at the Frederiksborg, Koldinghus and Roseborg castles, as well as at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, erroneously made famous by Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The Royal Museum of Fine Arts will exhibit artists of Northern Europe from 1588 to 1688.

Distances are short around Denmark and especially on the island of Funen and its surrounding small islands.

In the past, we've taken train, rental-car and ferry combinations from Copenhagen to the isle of Funen and Odense. We've also taken the short drive north from Flensburg on the West German border to Highway E66 over the narrow channel to Funen.

Ugly Duckling

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