2005 photo essays
Week seven (May 8, 2005)
The German-French partnership at the Expo
The next update is threading on thin ice since it touches on some political and historical topics. I do not attempt to give an objective view, and I want to make it very clear that the following describes how I feel towards the German-French relationship and is not supposed to be representative of anyone but myself.
If you think about history, it doesn't surprise that the relationship between France and Germany hasn't always been the best in the past. You have two World Wars with millions dead on both sides, with Germany being the aggressor, invading and for many years occupying the neighbouring country in World War II. After the war, the wish for retribution for this humiliation must have been pretty strong among the French people. After the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 9, 1945, France became an occupational power and administrated some of the western Bundesländer and one sector of what would later become West Berlin. One small Bundesland, the Saarland, was actually officially annexed by France and only returned to Germany in 1957.
Both contries strived for a normalization of their relationship in the following decades. This was attempted on all levels, reaching from the top level of international treaties down to the bottom of school and community exchange programs. Most cities and even smaller towns in Germany usually have a French partner town, and it is very common to have 1-2 week long exchanges between school classes, cultural organizations and so on.
· Recent development
I can't say anything definite about the time before, but when I grew up in the 80ies and 90ies, you could describe the relationship between Germany and France as "normal". When we went to France during our teens, we didn't feel any particular antipathy against us (well, not more than usual - when you visit a foreign country as a German, you get used to be called "Nazi").
Over the course of the extraordinarily fast progress of the European unification, both contries played a key role. If it weren't for the common efforts and cooporation of the two countries, a common European currency would probably have been unthinkable. The mutual political standpoint became particularly clear during the war in Iraq, when France and Germany more or less became the chief representative countries of the group of countries that opposed the US engagement in Iraq.
You could assert that this united stance gained France and Germany international recognition in some parts of the world, or that it lost them some in other parts. No matter what, in the wake of the Iraq war there were even proposals of a joint French-German constitution, which would then become a model for an European constitution. Well, that's still a thing of the future, but you never know how fast the progress possibly will be.
· The joint French-German Building at the Expo
At the Expo, the German and French pavilions share one big building (the biggest of the international pavilions on the site), with the respective pavilions on either side and the Common House (Maison Commune) with the shops, restaurants, VIP lounges and administration offices in the middle.
One word about the German-French common effort. The enterprise can be described as "together yet separate" - it's not like Germany and France have a common representation (for example, one joint exhibition or a mixed staff crew) - in this respect, both countries decided for completely different ways of presenting their country. With the current crisis regarding the unification of the European Union, we will see whether the ties will grow stronger or weaker - at the next large Expo in Shanghai 2010, it is to be seen if Germany and France will have grown together or separated from each other.
The first floor of the Common House holds the French and German souvenir shops and some shared exposition space for alternating exhibitions. The back wall illustrates the history of the Franco-German alliance since 1950 and has lots of photos of bridges between France and Germany. This symbolizes that, well, you know, the two countries share some borderline along a river. Here the progress to developing friendship between the two countries is stressed very much.
Whereas the French shop mostly sells cookies, the German one focuses on Neuschwanstein castle postcards, Bayern Munich fan scarfs and beer jugs. German visitors regularly break out laughing when they see the nutcrackers and weather houses on display.
The German restaurant (where I also work sometimes) is located on the 2nd floor. It is quite popular and on most days draws huge numbers of people. However, the kitchen in the back is so small that you won't believe the cooks manage to put out over 1000 meals a day. The place truly is a miracle of logistics. There is a very popular set menu with soup, sausages, dessert and beer for 3500 yen (25 Euros), which can be considered good value. The Beer (Warsteiner Pils and König Ludwig dark beer and white beer) is priced at 800 to 1000 Yen.
The French Restaurant on the 3rd floor is a more noble affair - and more expensive. The restaurant is designed and led by Guy Martin, who has been the chef of the venerable Grand Vefour in Paris (3 Michelin stars) for nearly 15 years and who was elected "Chef of the 21st century" in 1999.
· The German pavilion
The German pavilion is one of the most popular of the international pavilions and second only to some of the Corporate pavilions. The 13 million Euro budget was mainly spent on the main attraction, a 6-minute long rollercoaster ride called "Experience Drop" which introduces environmental topics and the German regions to the visitor (if you are interested in a detailed German description of the Experience Drop, check out this site). On most days the waiting time to get into the pavilion exceeds two or even three hours. The pavilion staff tries to break down the queue and discourage people of getting in line - that's not so easy though, since most people just answer "Yeah, three hours - so what?". Well, the Hitachi pavilion has a waiting time of up to six hours, so that's not such a big surprise.
Most visitors, especially children, getting off the ride are really thrilled and full of kind words of thanks for the "great experience" (what we hear quite often is "sasuga ni doitsu" - "just what we expected from Germany"). After you get off the ride, you enter the so-called "Experience Lab", which features a few examples of applied bionics, such as a interior wing part of the new Airbus 380 that is designed similar to a bird's bones. Some visitors have lamented the fact that all explanations of the exhibition in the German pavilion are written in Japanese and English only - others applauded this supposedly "bold move" in international orientation to obmit the country's language (German). Any way you might see it, it might have been more appropriate to do it as the French did and have a four-language exhibition (Japanese, English, French and German).
· The French pavilion
The French pavilion used budget of 15 million Euro. Some rumours claim that the money has mostly been used to subsidize the French restaurant - a thought not so far-fetched if you take a look inside the pavilion. Moving around there is a quite lonely affair and you can feel pretty much lost. The pavilion features mostly movies on various topics such as self-sufficient communities and also has exhibitions - for whatever reason - by such companies as Toyota and Louis Vuitton.
· Next week: The May sickness