COPENHAGEN — Denmark's famed Little Mermaid statue left her perch in the Copenhagen harbor Thursday and started a journey to the World Expo in Shanghai – the first trip abroad in her 96-year history.
The 5-foot (1.5-meter) landmark, which honors the memory of Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, was lifted by a crane and lowered onto the back of a truck at a ceremony in the Danish capital.
The exact travel itinerary is being kept secret for security reasons, but the statue is scheduled to be placed as the centerpiece of the Danish pavilion about a week before the World Expo opens May 1.
The temporary move is controversial in Denmark, where some considered it disrespectful to ship a cultural treasure halfway across the globe as a PR tool. Critics suggested the government should have sent a copy to China – an idea dismissed by Christopher Bo Bramsen, Danish commissioner-general for Expo 2010.
"Why send a copy when you can send the real thing?" he told The Associated Press.
Bramsen joined Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen and officials from the Danish government and the Chinese Embassy at the ceremony, which featured music and dance performances by Danish and Chinese artists.
Hundreds of people who had gathered for the event watched as a large crane hoisted the statue about 10 feet (3 meters) and slowly moved it over to the truck. The mermaid and the rock she rests on had been cut loose from the boulders beneath them a day earlier.
"I think they should keep her there. She doesn't represent Danish life in the 21st century they should have sent something else," said Sarah Ahmed, a 16-year-old student in the crowd.
Anne-Marie Henning, 92, said she would miss the mermaid.
"I have been coming here for years as I live in the neighborhood. It will feel strange without her," Henning said.
A video installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will replace the Little Mermaid until the statue returns in November. The multimedia artwork will include a live broadcast of the statue in Shanghai.
Created by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen, the fishtailed bronze is Denmark's most popular tourist attraction. She was unveiled in the Copenhagen harbor in August 1913 and has not been moved since, except to undergo repairs after a series of attacks by vandals.
Her international fame grew after she was beheaded in 1964. No arrests were ever made. However, a Danish artist claimed he cut off the head and threw it into a Copenhagen lake. It was never found and a new one was cast from the original mold.
Twenty years later her right arm was cut off and she was decapitated again in 1998. She's been doused in paint on numerous occasions and in 2003 she was blown off her stone base by vandals who used explosives. The following year she was draped in a burqa, apparently by critics of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
In Andersen's tale, the mermaid is a sea king's daughter who falls in love with a prince and must wait 300 years to become human. It was turned into a Disney film in 1989.