2005 photo essays
Week nineteen (July 31, 2005)
The popularity of the German Expo representation
July is just over, and it's only eight weeks left until the Expo closes the gates for the last time. I guess it's about time to focus on the German representation here at the Aichi Expo, which has become one of the most popular at the whole Expo - probably without actually intending so originally. The queues in front of the pavilion and the restaurant usually are the longest of all country pavilions and on some days even beat the ever-popular Hitachi and Toyota pavilions. This is - of course - because of the set-up of the German representation here, but I suppose that the general image of Germany also plays a vital role in creating this huge appeal to visitors.
· The image of Germany in Japan
If you start thinking about the image of Germany in other countries, you can usually reduce it on a few general cliches. I have labeled these the "3 B" - Bier (beer), bratwurst (sausages) and BMW. Generally speaking, Germany is admired for its art of brewery and its advanced technology, especially regarding automobiles. Therefore, Germany's image in the world is heavily influenced by cultural aspects of its largest and southernmost Bundesland (county) of Bavaria. Everyone knows the Munich Oktoberfest, the large one-liter beer jugs ("Maß"), leather trousers and the castle of Neuschwanstein, all of which are part of Bavarian culture.
The same is true of German cuisine: if you would ask people to name typical German dishes, you'd probably get mostly meat-based southern dishes such as fried sausages, pork's leg with dumplings, and Schnitzel with potato salad. Other culinary highlights, such as the fine wines of Western Germany, tasty fish dishes of the North Sea, and the world's best bread that is baked in Germany, are often neglected.
This emphasis on Bavarian particularities can become a problem because it is just one aspect of the diverse country of Germany, and some people feel that Germany is not properly represented by this one-sided image - however, if you start questioning this image, can you think of a better, more representative one?
While it is true that most countries have some kind of national symbol - the Eiffel Tower for the French, the Statue of Liberty for the Americans, Angkor Wat for the Cambodians - this is more difficult in the case of Germany, since the symbol of the reunited German state, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, is not so well known internationally. (And, dear Japanese visitors, it wasn't built out of stones from the Berlin Wall!) Apart from that, you'd be hard pressed to find any representative item, be it regarding food, language, customs, traditional clothing, famous buildings etc. This shows how divided the national identity of Germany actually is. If you put five random Germans together and let them muse about selecting a famous sightseeing spot that is unimistakenly representative for Germany, everyone would come up with a different buildings, some of which the others wouldn't recognize on a photograph or haven't even heard of.
The abovementioned traditional, medieval, rustic image of Germany is rather old-fashioned - in present Germany, most people do not dance around the May tree or live in castles (and yes, dear Americans, we do have electricity already!). Still, the way Germany and the Germans are regarded sometimes seems to boil down to that. This focus on the old "classic" Germany was especially apparent when I studied at a Japanese university and took some courses in German studies - they focused mostly on translating German classic literature (Goethe, Schiller) with some Sigmund Freud thrown in - but nothing really regarding "modern" Germany.
In an attempt to fresh up this antiquated image, the German government is now holding the "Germany in Japan 2005/2006" year. This includes the German representation at the Expo, but also various cultural events and other events in Japan and Germany, taking place in between March 2005 and March 2006. This government-funded program is especially directed towards younger people, to whom the appeal as a tourist destination should be raised. Check out, for example, this information brochure by Youth Travel in Germany which, to me, totally does not look like Germany. Next to various opera performances, the German year also includes a series of club music events with a surprisingly good line-up (DJ Hell, Savas Pascalidis et al.) to introduce German club culture.
If one talks about Germany's image in Japan, one should not forget to mention the affectionate feeling that quite a few Japanese (especially older people) carry in their hearts. It is not to be denied that Japan was heavily influenced by Germany during its fast-pace industrialization after the opening of the country at the end of the 19th century. The famous Iwakura mission of 1871-73 toured many Western countries and brought back reports after which the new modern Japan would later be built. Whereas, for example, the parliament was built after the British one, parts of the constitution, the medical, military system, and schools took Prussia as a model.
Even though the links go back as far as the 19th century, what some older Japanese have locked in their hearts is the alliance between Japan, Germany and Italy during WWII - the so-called "Axis Berlin-Rome-Tokyo". It has happened to me more than once that old Japanese men would come up to me and go like "Oh, you're German? Yes, Germany, very good! Like back in the old days when we were fighting shoulder to shoulder! Messerschmitt, they built the best war planes in the world!" And so on. When that happens I usually try to convince them that the ties between the two countries are based on older and more peaceful events, but I have already realized that this is fruitless. Anyway, the connection to Germany is historically defined and you can expect that people in Japan are curious about what the Germans are up to, so they would come and see the German Expo representation.
Update 2005-09-10: The image of Germany sometimes
leads to rather strange situations: you start doubting the modern age
when Japanese customers greet you with "Heil Hitler" and start
telling you stories of the time they spent in the Japanese Hitlerjugend.
On a similar note, one of the rare foreigner couples entering the German
pavilion and getting seated in the jet coaster ride, made the ultimate
joke: Pointing towards the lever to switch between Japanese and English
narration, they inquired "Is this the switch for the gas?"
· The neverending rush on the German pavilion
I reported before in Week Seven that the German pavilion at the Expo is very popular and usually has by far the longest queues of the countries' pavilions. This hasn't changed - on the contrary, these days, with the gradual increase of Expo visitors in general, the situation has become so crowded every day as it only was before only at the weekends. In June and July, on weekdays ("weak days"), the number of Expo visitors easily exceeded 100.000; formerly, numbers around 120.000 or 130.000 were only reached on Saturdays.
Also, the days with the most Expo visitors used to be the busiest days for the pavilion, but now this, too, has changed - the queue keeps getting longer, regardless of day and weather. Consider the fact that on last week's Tuesday which had us waiting for the strong typhoon No. 7, in spite of ridiculously low visitor numbers and storm warnings (which even led to the French's pavilion's closing early at 2 pm), the German queue retained its usual length of two to two-and-a-half hours. This is probably because of many local visitors who postponed their visit to the German pavilion before, hoping for shorter waiting times some other time, but now realizing that there is only eight weeks left.
Generally, at weekends, the pavilion usually puts out the first "No admittance at present" announcement even before its opening time (9:30 am) - on busy days, the entrance gates of the Expo are now opened as soon as 8:40, therefore the number of people rushing straight towards the pavilion and lining up in front of the building exceeds the available space already at shortly past nine o'clock. One consequence of this development is that now, on busy days, the pavilion is also opened 15 minutes earlier. The morning queue already amounts to a waiting times of over two or three hours, and even though the attendants attempt to discourage people from joining the queue, people will then simply set up another queue for the main queue.
The problem about admission to the German pavilion is that the capacity of people that can be admitted is limited to a quite low number, therefore creating a bottleneck and causing queues. One car seating six people runs about every minute, which amounts to around 300 visitors per hour or 3.500 to 4.000 a day. Therefore, while other pavilions have long since welcomed their one millionth visitor, the German pavilion will see no more than 600.000 visitors over the course of the whole Expo. That's another factor to be considered when you start wondering why people would endure three hours of waiting time in the soaring heat or pouring rain just for a 6-minute jet coaster ride.
Another reason may be the general image of a "popular pavilion", transmitted by word-of-mouth progaganda. Most people have no clue what expects them inside the pavilion, they have only heard about the reputation and the popularity of the pavilion - something that popular must be good. This popularity goes as far as that people try to make money out of it. As my colleague Flo reported in his blog a while back, some clever residents of the German partner cities in Aichi Prefecture, Inuyama and Toyohashi, put up easy access tickets for the German pavilion on Yahoo auctions, the Japanese version of Ebay. This finally led to the abolishment of the easy access system for these cities, and carriers of these cards now only receive a Germany pin badge and fan - there you go guys, that's what I call spoiling it for everybody!
Another thing that goes on behind our back in this age of the internet and the growing blogosphere is the information exchange about the German representation on internet forums and weblogs. For example, the Enjoy Expo forum's "Global Common 3" thread is dominated by reports and advice about the German pavilion. You need to keep in mind that for a pavilion as popular as the German one, people probably also exchange hints and tricks to cheat their way inside. There are also numerous blogs and accounts written about the Expo that report about the German pavilion and restaurant - too numerous and, since they are written in Japanese, not easily accessible for us. I have also heard about photo sites where people exchange photographs of (mostly female) foreign pavilion attendants, but I have yet to find one.
In case you are interested in some more resources about the German pavilion, you might want to check out the official web site which features a few press releases and miscellaneous information.
· White beer and sausages
After taking two or three hours just to see the German pavilion, people are getting hungry and thirsty and they want to grab some German beer and sausages. This is where the ever-popular German restaurant comes into play, which offers mostly Southern German dishes like Schnitzel, fried sausages with sauerkraut and the hugely popular Schweinshaxe (pork's leg). The famous German beer comes in three sorts: Warsteiner Pils beer (in my opinion, the best beer in the world), dark beer and white beer. Dark beer carrying the image of being rather bitter (as English or Irish dark beers), most people go for the white beer, which is regarded as a typical German speciality.
On busy days like last Sunday, you can queue for three hours at the pavilion, and then, right at the exit, line up once again for the German restaurant. A queue of around 80 to 120 people has become rather normal at peak times, but a one hour queue (more than 250 people), going through the whole Common House is rather unusual and also hard to believe if you haven't seen it with your own eyes. This queue becomes a security problem for the Common House reception, the first floor shops and also the French restaurant on the third floor (whose manager comes down to complain regularly) because it blocks all paths and entries.
I guess most people would find it hard to believe that visitors would queue for one hour just to drink a beer or eat some sausages, but the appeal of the German restaurant seems to be that high. In the first half of July, our queue would begin forming shortly after opening time at 10:00 am and then disappear only after closing time at 9:30 pm, indicating that the restaurant would always be running at full capicity with all tables in use. You can maybe imagine how much work that means for the staff working under these conditions the whole day.
After the first few weeks, I started working in the restaurant as a bartender. This has resulted in quite a few funny situations. For example, one (mildly drunk) customer came up to us and was going like "I went to the Osaka Expo and to this very day, I could not forget the taste of the German beer. Thank you so much for letting me have this experience!" Did he think that I was the same bartender as 35 years ago? Other people come to me to shake hands or get some detailed beer advice. There is also quite a few people who want to take pictures, including the press which caught me a few times. The Chunichi newspaper featured me in an article and a documentary film. The Yomiuri newspaper also had a short movie about the German pavilion.
· Outlook on the final weeks
On July 17th, the Expo had a visitor's record. The previous record of 175.000 had been established in the middle of June - Saturday was already close to that with 165.000, but on that Sunday, the day before the Marine Day holiday, everything so far experienced was blown totally away. 215.000 people visited the Expo site on that day - everywhere you looked it was just one huge crowd of people. The German pavilion on that weekend got under siege like never before - due to the huge number of people queueing, the hosts finally gave up sorting the queue and let people queue up as far as they liked. This resulted in a waiting line all way along the pavilion and back towards the entry, which caused quite some sweat with the Expo security guards that were summoned to restore order.
Even though national pride isn't the strongest trait in the personality of many Germans, I guess that in the end, we can all be a little bit proud to be a part of such a popular enterprise - the German pavilion has attained a "cult" status that will be remembered for a long time.
After the crazy mid-July weekend, to our big surprise, the latter half of July was suspiciously quiet in terms of visitors to the Expo in general and the German restaurant - probably because of oversaturation - giving us a last chance to convalesce before the inevitable assault during the last few weeks of the Expo. The Expo visitor forecast has me fearing for the worst - check out the red alert for the Bon weekend in August and the last two weeks in September. Yeah, all right, let's pull up the sleeves and enter the final stage of the Expo with DEFCON 1...
· Next week: My view of the EXPO 2000 Hannover