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In the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen

I grew up in a suburb of Odense, the third largest city in Denmark located on the island "in the middle." Famous and infamous for its love-hate relationship with the author Hans Christian Andersen, who was born in Odense but left to pursue fame and glory elsewhere. The brand is strong but every politician or entrepreneur seeking to nurture it has met the choir of the duck-yard: The conservative risk averseness of the small town that appears so vividly in Andersen's stories. When I visited Odense three years ago with my family, we went to see the house where Andersen was born and a very academic museum exhibition where the most interactive part was writing in the guest book. Since then (and finally) the construction of a brand new Andersen experience has completed, aiming to make Odense worthy of a pit stop when visiting Denmark.

What used to be a busy four lane main road cutting the city centre in half is now a quiet pedestrian area with the occasional street car. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

A reunion

This Christmas I reunited with a friend and his family who now lives in Singapore. Both of us back in Denmark for the holidays, we decided to meet up in Odense at the Hans Christian Andersen House. It was a bit of a joker, especially bringing five kids aged 2-10. I did not find many reviews on Google or YouTube and the presentation on the website left us guessing on whether it lives up to the promises. We put our faith in the addition of Ville Vau for letting the kids run off enough steam for things to calm down enough for us parents getting a chance for talking about the occasional grown up stuff like OSR, Fastaval, and travelling with kids post Corona.

The tour of Hans Christian Andersen House

Tickets are booked online in advance for a specific time slot. When you arrive you are given a headset programmed in one of three languages: Danish, English, and Chinese. No buttons, everything is triggered by you moving around within the tour area. You get instructions in person which is nice. A contrast to the tour which is delivered fully through silicate life forms.

View of the tour area. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

The tour area presents animated displays with illustrations and items that deliver the Hans Christian Andersen experience. As you move closer to displays, the headset you are wearing delivers narration and dialogue related to the display and the animation starts. The dialogue is more like overhearing a conversation than attending a lecture which makes for a very informal and playful tone.

The final section in the tour presents a selection of the most beloved fairy tales. Essentially short videos triggered by moving close and pressing the occasional button, the physical environment you are moving around in is inspired by the stories. Very pleasing and the style of the animations and choice of snippets are excellent.

Posing as the Emperor in magnificent tailor-made outfits while receiving flattering remarks from the renowned tailors. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Play at Ville Vau

While the tour is a very solitaire experience, Ville Vau invites you to play with your companions and other visitors, especially those of age 4-8. Costumes are available in all sizes. Dress up as a prince, flower-fairy, or wizard from a faraway country, have tea with the king, pick up a letter from a prominent person far away, or get a haircut by a magical cat. The costumes and locations are colourful, sturdy and inspires lots of play. After running off some steam, go upstairs and channel your own creativity onto a canvas or into a paper silhouette.

Live size jack-in-the-box greeting you around a corner. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Tips for your visit

The tour is a solitaire experience. As you wear a head set through the entire walk and interact with the exhibition by moving around, you will not socialise much with your companions for the duration.

The tour is like a buffet: Immerse yourself and explore what fancies you in the moment. It's not a book you read from cover to cover. It's not a story with a strong narrator telling you who Hans Christian Andersen was. You are left to make your own conclusions from the fragments presented.

You can bring lunch boxes or you can go explore the nearby restaurants. The restaurant at the Andersen House is temporarily closed. This is not a deal breaker as you can re-enter and visit Ville Vau as much as you want on the day of your visit and as your are right in the city center.

Groups with kids aged 4-8 should start in Ville Vau and maybe even go only for that part. You will need one grown up for every four kids. The rest of the group can then take the tour and come back one or two hours later.

Go by car or by train: With both the central train station and a parking basement near by, pick what works best for you.

The memorial room retelling the key moments in the life of Andersen. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

Parting thoughts

My favourite part of the exhibition was the installations with the fairy tales, especially interacting with the mirror. 21st century technology bringing you right into a classic story. I would love for even more interaction and even more agency. Why not a display where you lift virtual dogs with eyes the size of tea cups, mill wheels, and church towers guarding chests of copper, silver and gold? Why not a display where you ride a goat in a virtual race overtaking your finely dressed brothers and picking up mud for the sauce pan on the way?

The wonderful Ville Vau hits its age bracket exactly right. Groups with younger participants should start there while older kids and less playful parents will quickly want to move on. The quality of the props and costumes are high and will last for many playful visitors yet.

If you don't know Hans Christian Andersen or his fairy tales, the H.C. Andersen House will not give you the basic facts (look up Andersen on Wikipedia). If you do know the basics, the tour will ask you to reflect on how the ambitions and longings of Andersen led to the creation of a trove of stories known all around the world and which can still make a grown man shed a tear and a smile centuries later.

Happy to see that the support for Ukraine is still strong. Odense City Hall. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

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