Every city needs a bit of fairytales in it”, he says.
Former Danish ambassador to China and current Commissioner General of Denmark, Christopher Bo Bramsen, leans forward. “It is not enough to have a good city, a fantastic city,” he says. He chuckles, and his diplomatic, cool image vanishes. A warm, jovial man reveals himself in the grey suit.
“There has to be something more”, he says.
Bramsen is talking about creating the perfect city. Despite one-child policy, the Chinese population is growing , and people moving from land to city is becoming a more and more urgent matter to discuss.
To face the challenge, China this year hosts the World EXPO 2010. Located in Shanghai and themed “Better City, Better Life” the aim is to find answers to how China can best prepare for the massive expansion of city population? The EXPO runs over six months, expects 70 million visitors and is the largest of its kind to date.
Denmark is just one of the 192 countries, who have a pavilion at the EXPO, hoping to attract as many visitors as possible. According to Bramsen, this is a unique chance to showcase eco-friendly and green city solutions, an area where Denmark is a frontrunner.
“There are two levels at this EXPO. The first level is the exhibition, where we can show the Chinese how we do things in Denmark – our welfare society,” he explains.
Accordingly, the pavilion is called “Wellfairytales” and visitors can bicycle around in it, have a picnic on the roof top of it and enjoy a Danish lunch box set on a special designed bench. The walls are covered in contemporary art, every Wednesday there will be live music and in the middle, in a small pool of water, sits the Danish national symbol, The Little Mermaid.
The second level is the export opportunity this presents. Wellfairytales has a budget of a whopping 150 million kroner and seven large Danish companies sponsor the pavilion: Maersk, Vestas, Kopenhagen Fur, Grundfos, Arla, Carlsberg and RealDania.
To them, this is a golden opportunity to network and expand their business in China in beautiful surroundings and with their products displayed fully functioning. The pavilion features a large meeting room and facilities to discuss ideas as well.
“Of course, it is expected that the EXPO will have a positive effect on the export. The sponsors are not random companies, they are companies who are quite big here in China, so this is not a chance to get into the Chinese market. It is a boost, a chance for them to meet new contacts and make new deals,” he explains.
But for Bramsen, the main concern is not business deals and export. The companies can deal with that themselves. It is how to attract the visitors to the Danish pavilion.
“There are almost 200 countries competing here. When you visit, how much can you see in one day – maybe five different pavilions, he concludes.”
Fortunately, attracting people and creating interest is his strong side. He has shown repeatedly in his longtime work as ambassador that he is a creative mind and that he thinks out of the box. So of course, he already has the answer.
“The Little Mermaid! H.C. Andersen is already very well known in China and by sending the mermaid, our national symbol, we show respect for China. We show a positive attitude and that is very important, he says. The mermaid landed in China in the beginning of April and from the start, the Chinese media has shown a lot of interest in her.”
“She is definitely drawing focus our way and all we have to do is keep it that way, he says and explains how every Wednesday, for example, the visitors of the pavilion will be treated to “Mermaid music” from shifting Danish and Chinese performers.”
It is important for another reason as well. As well as being a catalyst for the export out of Denmark, the pavilion is a part of Denmark’s brand. When visiting Wellfairytales, it is the hope that visitors will get an idea of what Denmark is like – and perhaps go there.
“Our main aim is that everything will go in such a way, so that the Chinese will talk about Denmark as something positive. Can we show the Chinese our vision of how a modern metropolis should look, then we have done a good job,” he says.
And the brand over them all, the Mermaid, is ready to do her part in that. She is sitting in a pool of underlit water, in the middle of the construction, facing a large glass window in the middle of the pavilion. Bramsen returns to his original point.
“The physical frames of a city have to work, of course. But the essence of “Better City, Better Life” is that people should be happy in the city, too. There has to be content in the framework, a cultural character,” he says and adds:
“That is how Denmark will stand out from the crowd at this EXPO. There has to be a little bit of fairytale in it.”