Danes Mark Tivoli's 150 Years of Delight Perhaps Nothing Captures Denmark's Spirit like These Gardens - Part Amusement Park, Part County Fair, Part Botanical Exhibit

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IN an entry from his 1843 journal, Hans Christian Andersen wrote, "was in Tivoli today ... started my Chinese fairy tale."

So there it is: proof, in one brief and rather enigmatic reference to a visit to Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens, that the legendary storyteller was a true Dane. He went to Tivoli, and it inspired him.

As the Danes themselves will tell you, nothing captures the Danish spirit quite like these gardens - part amusement park, part county fair, part architectural museum, and part botanical exhibit - with their fountains, theaters, bright lights, restaurants, ice cream and pastry stands, all packed into one big block in the center of Copenhagen.

Nothing better defines this country than this 20-acre expression of genteel pleasure, orderly nature, simple fun, and worldly exoticism tamed by the rather unworldly homogeneity that is Denmark.

Even the most phlegmatic Danes become rhapsodic about their Tivoli. Take a stroll around the park, and the normally serious and trustworthy Danes start telling wild, button-popping tales of great-grandfathers who really originated the idea for such a garden.

Tivoli now ranks as the world's seventh most popular amusement park - after the Disney parks, among others, which were themselves the fruit of a visit to Tivoli by Walt Disney in the early 1950s. That Tivoli was the "seventh something" had one Danish woman insisting to a recent first-time visitor that the garden "must be one of the seven wonders of the world."

Every year, the opening of Tivoli symbolizes the arrival of spring, a welcome moment in Scandinavia. But this year Tivoli's opening in late April gave the Danes even more to celebrate - 1993 is the park's 150th year.

Tall tales aside, it was Georg Carstensen (a Danish journalist who had grown up in very different surroundings in Algeria) who got the go-ahead from King Christian VIII for an amusement park just outside the Danish capital's 19th-century ramparts. According to legend, the king, an absolute ruler with little tolerance for frivolity, nevertheless took a keen interest in Mr. Carstensen's argument that "people engaged in fun do not engage in politics." Tivoli opened in 1843 to 175,000 first-year visitors. Last year, 4.1 million visitors - 60 percent of them Danes - stopped in before the gates closed for the winter in mid-September.

To commemorate this year's jubilee anniversary, Tivoli planted 134,000 bulbs, completely refurbished the belle epoque brownstone entrance, added a ride based on the Andersen fairy tales and a restaurant (the park's 28th) on an 18th-century model frigate, and fashioned a summer entertainment lineup that includes Danish-born Victor Borge, Jessye Norman, a week of performances by the New York City Ballet, and 144 classical concerts. …