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Hans Christian Andersen Turns 200

Thousands of people lined the cobblestone streets of fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen's town of birth Saturday to welcome royals, movie stars and actors marking the 200th birthday of the beloved creator of "The Little Mermaid" and "The Ugly Duckling."

The young and old in Odense waved red-and-white Danish flags and snapped pictures of the princesses and sports stars who toured a museum dedicated to Denmark's most famed and beloved author.

Born April 2, 1805, Andersen was the son of a charwoman and a shoemaker. He was a well-known novelist in Denmark during his lifetime, but his worldwide popularity as a fairy tale writer came after his death.

A concert scheduled for later Saturday in Copenhagen will be the climax of three days of celebrations that have been meticulously planned for months.

About 2,000 police officers, or one-fifth of Denmark's police force, have been assigned to watch over the Andersen celebrations, which started Friday with a play based on Andersen's writings at the Royal Theater in the Danish capital.

Worldwide, some 3,000 events have been scheduled this year to honor the writer, from the unveiling of Andersen statues in Vietnam to writing competitions in New York schools and puppet theater performances in Australia.

"My mother read some of the fairy tales and I am so proud of Andersen," said Camilla Hansen, 9, of Odense.

Stine Magnussen, a 25-year-old chemistry student, said she was more interested in catching a glimpse of the VIPs.

"Of course we love our Andersen, but we are here to see the celebrities for real," she said.

Royals from Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands joined such celebrities as Australian Olympic gold sprinter Cathy Freeman, British actor Roger Moore and Chilean author Isabel Allende for a tour of the Andersen museum, a modern building that incorporates the low, half-timbered, late 18th-century house where the writer lived as a child.

American literary critic and scholar Harold Bloom received this year's $65,175 Hans Christian Andersen Prize.

"The older I get the more and more I believe in ghosts. I suspect it may be present this afternoon -- Andersen's ghost," Bloom said, accepting the award at Odense's concert hall.

German writer and Nobel Prize laureate Gunter Grass, who received an honorary award, said, "Maybe Andersen wrote in Danish, but his stories are universal."

A concert later at a Copenhagen soccer stadium, to be televised worldwide, will include Tina Turner, Olivia Newton John, French musician Jean-Michel Jarre and American opera singer Renee Fleming.

In Denmark, the author's image is everywhere -- on commemorative coins and postage stamps, on beer labels and dinnerware, as well as baby clothes -- all specially designed for the jubilee.

Politiken, a major newspaper, has since Jan. 1 published daily excerpts from Andersen's diaries. Last year, a major Danish publishing house presented the re-edition of Andersen's complete works, an 18-volume collection.

The giant birthday bash ends Sunday with a reception in the capital's city hall.

Many of Andersen's works have been adapted to film, including a 1952 musical classic starring Danny Kaye and the 1989 Disney cartoon, "The Little Mermaid."