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Week twenty (August 7, 2005)

My view of the EXPO 2000 Hannover

This week's entry once again focuses on a completely different topic, which is a good thing as long as it keeps me from complaining constantly. The World Exposition before the current Aichi Expo was the so-called Millenium Expo (EXPO 2000) which took place in Hanover, Germany. For me, having had the chance to visit that exposition (albeit very shortly), it makes for an interesting perspective when comparing the two expositions.

· The German World Exposition

The EXPO 2000 took place for 153 days from June 1 through October 31 in Hannover, Germany. Being set in the symbolic year of 2000, it was also titled Millenium Expo. Due to this fact and the connoted "step into the 21st century", combined with the theme of the exposition "Man - Nature - Technology" (Mensch - Natur - Technik), a huge appeal to visitors was anticipated - only to be disappointed harshly. One note: The legacy of the EXPO 2000 is kept alive by the EXPOSEEUM e. V., which also has a comprehensive web site regarding the World Exposition.

Japan pavilion and surroundings (© R. Schuderer)

Expo site seen from the gondola (© R. Schuderer)

German chancellor Gerhardt Schröder claimed that EXPO 2000 was a "... great chance in 55 years after WWII and 10 years after the reunification", at the opening ceremony of the Expo on June 1, 2000. Almost 200 countries and international organizations participated in the biggest world fair to date. The event, for the first time in the history of World Expositions, took place on the existing grounds of the Hannover Messe, a measure to reduce the cost of building and removal of the exposition site. EXPO 2000 included on-site national exhibitions, a thematic area, cultural events, and about 700 practical projects from around the world, 280 of which were from Germany.

Final weekend at the Expo (© R. Luszcz)

Expo panorama (© R. Luszcz)

The site proper was divided into the West area, which hosted a colorful combination of countries (selected pavilions in order from North to South: Venezuela, Iceland, Nepal, Mexiko, Oktoberfest tent, Japan, Australia, the Vatican). The East area, on the other hand, was dominated by pavilions of the European countries. The "Gelände Mitte" (Central area) hosted many country pavilions inside the exposition halls. The East and West areas were connected by the cleverly named "Exponale" bridge walkway. Also in the Central area, the Thematic Area (comprised of eleven exhibitions, such as included "Knowledge, Information, Communication" and "The Future of Work") aimed to encourage new approaches to the challenges of the third millennium.(Note: For more information, check this comprehensive work on the Expo 2000 architecture: Expo 2000 Hannover Architektur).

German pavilion (© F. Boller)

United Arab Emirates pavilion (© F. Boller)

East Area waterfall (© F. Boller)

Exponale & Planet M (© F. Boller)

Yemen pavilion (© F. Boller)

Lithuania pavilion (© F. Boller)

One notable exception to the countries represented at the Expo (equals close to all countries there are in the world) was, curiously, the world's only remaining superpower: the United States. Even though the inability to send a representation was jokingly attributed to reasons such as "Sorry, we were busy" or "World what? Yours faithfully, the USA", the real reason was the cancellation of funds by the US Congress and the lack of private funding. This absence at the largest world fair ever, set in a symbolic year, did not fail to draw its share of ridicule in the international community - check out this sarcastic rendering of the US presence.

For the EXPO 2000 ad campaign, German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk created a three-second jingle. Even though Kraftwerk enjoys a legendary reputation and the first new release since 1986 was eagerly anticipated, the amount of 400.000 DM (200.000 Euro) as recompensation for a few seconds of vocoded voices was regarded as rather outrageous. The jingle was subsequently turned into a proper track, remixed by various artists such as Orbital and Underground Resistance and released as CD single and 12 inch (snippets of the tracks can be listened to at the official Kraftwerk home page). Kraftwerk also performed at the Expo on June 9th, 2000.

For more photographs and information about the Expo, check out the photo galleries on the official web site, the private photo collection of Frank Boller and the private account of Barbara and Reinhard Luszcz, all of which I lifted quite a few pictures from.

· The failure of the EXPO 2000

In terms of visitor numbers EXPO 2000 failed dramatically: even though an attendance of over 40 million visitors had been expected, only 18 million unique visitors were recorded during the 153 days of the Expo - a major failure not only regarding the image of the organization committee, but also economically. The estimated revenue through ticket sales stayed way below the anticipated value, which resulted in billions of tax money being used to balance the debts of the Hannover Messe. The financial disaster was also a result of the heavy price slashes for admission tickets to spur the lackluster response to the Expo in Germany. Alltogether the Expo lost six times as much money as was budgeted for - an estimated total of 2.4 billion DM ( Euro).

This debacle fueled the critical opinions that had been heard ever since Hannover proposed for the exposition: critical voices had questioned the concept of World Expositions, regarding them superfluous in an age of mass media of television and internet and long-distance travel. It was taken as a proof that the attendance at World Expositions has diminished strikingly over the last few decades; the Osaka Expo 1970 drew 65 million visitors, the Sevilla Expo 1992 40 million. However, if you consider the astounding visitor's figure of 48 million at the previous Millenium Expo in Paris in 1900, an age where people had much less opportunity and wealth to travel, it could be argued that the concept of World Expositions is antiquated in this day and age. The weak response to the 2000 Expo not only in the public (as measured by visitor's numbers) but also in the media seemed to be a proof for this theory.

After the end of the Expo, it was argued that the exposition actually caused damage to Germany's image instead of giving it a boost, based on the fact that the event which had the potential to be the definitive global millennial celebration attracted less than half the number of the target figure visitor number. Somehow, the Expo failed to generate the necessary atmosphere of a must-see. Some people claim that the rather uninspiring city of Hanover failed to draw people, others argue that Germany as a country cannot create the flair for a flamboyant exposition as southern countries can. Others blame it on the weak advertising efforts which failed to reach the target audience.

In the end, it was probably a number of factors that contributed to the partial failure of the EXPO 2000. This major setback led the organizators of the 2005 Expo in Japan be more modest about projected visitor numbers, and this proved to be the right move: as it seems right now, the 15 million anticipated visitors will be exceeded by far.

· My trip to the Expo 2000

Even though the EXPO 2000 didn't cause such a stir in Germany that you would have said "We must go there", we had long since decided that "We should go once" - however, this endeavour was postponed over and over again since it was almost to late. So we decided to go there on the very last weekend on Saturday - not the smartest move in retrospect, since that was probably the day with the highest visitor numbers. We decided to meet at the Hannover train station at 4 p.m. that afternoon, since I had to travel there from southern Germany and my buddy J. came from Halle in eastern Germany. We met there all right and started to the Expo venue to get our evening discount tickets - so we had only one afternoon to spend at the Expo.

Our tight schedule and our lack of research beforehand limited our activities on the Expo site severly, but we didn't want to put any pressure on ourselves and went with the tide to whatever place seemed interesting. We strolled the site a little, decided that the queues at the interesting popular pavilions (Japan, Thailand, Mexico) were too long for our taste, and went over to the Africa/Southeast Asia halls. There we had some beer (Beerlao and Tsing Tao) and some okay Thai food. The warehouse-style set-up didn't appeal to us that much however - an exciting and enthusiastic "We are visiting the World Exposition" kind of feeling didn't really catch on to us, the whole atmosphere there actually seemed more like a German exhibition about the world.


Me inside the Dutch pavilion

It was a short trip, but it certainly was worth the time and money to have visited the Expo just for a brief moment. After all, it's a rare opportunity - how often is there a World Exposition in your own country? Seeing these photographs again now after almost five years brings back strange memories - it's also funny how I would have never even have imagined back then that the next time around I would be a part of what I experienced as a visitor then. Also, remembering the feeling of relaxedness and curiosity when we strolled the EXPO 2000 site kind of helped me empathize with the Japanese visitors who come here to the Aichi Expo basically just to have a good time - a thing better to keep in mind no matter how stressful your work is.

· Next week: China takes the flag from Japan