2005 photo essays
Week twenty-seven (September 25, 2005)
· The final week at the Expo
Here it is, the report on the final week of the Expo. As expected, the "closing doors panic" (as we say in German) had many many people coming to the Expo, causing incredibly long waiting queues. Upon leaving the site in the evening, you would trip over people in sleeping bags, queueing up for the next morning - that itself was not so extraordinary, it was the large number of people that made you marvel. Every day recorded more than 200,000 visitors, so the Expo site was basically one large crowd.
Queues were everywhere - even pavilions with large capacities (such as China) created waiting lines of more than 30 minutes. The more popular pavilions would draw such huge crowds that you would have to track back their queues half way through the Global Common to queue up at a point where you could maybe hardly even catch a glimpse of the pavilion itself in the distance.
Most photos on this page were taken on Sunday before the final weekend, which recorded an all-time record of 280,000 visitors. As you can imagine, the maximum capacity of the Expo site of 170,000 people at the same time was full after a very short period, and so entrance limitations were put into place. The final week and weekend were also busy, but unexpectedly, towards the end, the number of people dwindled a little, so we were spared the madness a little. In the end, they still squeezed in everyone to surpass the important mark of 22 million visitors - the final number was 22,049,544 unique visitors during the 185 days.
For the last weekend, the access paths for visitors to the Expo site was changed to allow for longer queues. When we arrived on Friday morning, a long queue along the access road outside of the Expo site greeted us - in a rough estimate, it was about three kilometres long (no joke!). It didn't really make sense to take photographs of the queue because there was no point of reference regarding the distance to the entrance - the below photograph is taken at a point about 1km apart from the West Gate, and the queue continued for at least another 2km along the road.
· German pavilion
Once again, the German pavilion. It will go down in history as the pavilion causing the most headaches for everyone involved in crowd management at the Aichi Expo.
Due to the huge popularity and the resulting queue, easy access tickets (which are handed out when the ride breaks down) have become hard currency. True or forged, these tickets are selling for ridiculously high amounts (over 20,000 Yen - around 165 Euro) on Yahoo Auctions. In other auctions, some shady characters were selling "inside tricks" how to get into the German pavilion by easy access - but the seller warned that "even though this method has worked for him, he can't guarantee it by 100%, so please don't complain afterwards". Yeah sure. Also, forged tickets started appearing ever more frequently the closer the end of the Expo drew closer.
The previously stultifying work got spiced up in September: during the last few weeks, the German pavilion queues blew all proportions, reaching lenghts which weren't even discussed before in theory. Actually I started running out of jokes when one day, arriving in the morning at 9 o'clock, we would meet German attendants on the bridge connection the Global Loop to our Global Common, announcing waiting times of 7 hours to the queue - people would still queue up in spite of this. The attendants were constantly running out of appropriate signs to hold up - "HQ, we need new signs with more than 4 hours".
This was the longest ever queue for the pavilion - from that moment on, serious crowd management had to be applied. I recorded the whole length in a movie and put up some cuts below.
The impending end of the Expo led visitors to all kinds of desperate actions to gain access to the famed German pavilion. People would use full body contact to queue up before others, which created a stampede-like run towards the pavilion more than once - and I can tell you that that's no joke, injuries were not unheard of.
In the last two weeks of the Expo, when visitor numbers surpassed the 200,000 mark every day, the area behind the German-French pavilion had to be locked off by Expo security personnel from early morning to avoid crowd chaos. The regular queue slowly dwindled and the area became quieter, but everybody knew that it was just a temporary quiet before the storm. Everybody would get busy on the walkie-talkies to coordinate the re-opening of the queue - at times, it seemed more like a military operation than an exhibition. The queue had to be strictly controlled by a joint security force of German pavilion attendants and Expo security staff - seeing the squeezed and fenced-in waiting people, you sometimes couldn't help thinking of the "long history" of German crowd management.
The frequent breakdowns of the jet coaster inside the German pavilion haunted us on the last weekend, too. On Friday, the breakdown occured at 9 pm when there were only a handful of people left in the queue. Some of these were quite unhappy with the situation and caused a big scene - they just wouldn't leave the pavilion. After a long discussion with pavilion staff, they even received Expo admission tickets for the next day just to visit the German pavilion as a recompensation.
On Saturday, the dreaded technical problems struck in the afternoon, just a few minutes after I took a ride with the rollercoaster for the very first time (I saved it until the end). Since about 500 people received easy access tickets, it was decided upon re-opening of the pavilion at around half past six that for the remaining two hours, no regular visitors would be admitted to avoid another crowd stampede. This sensible decision created a bizarre situation: the number of visitors was much smaller than anticipated and therefore, on the last-but-one day of the Expo, one of the most popular pavilions would be running at low capacity, with only a handful of visitors entering every now and then and the jet coaster running empty for most of the time.
One can say that on this day, for the first time, the pavilion was running the way it was designed. It was never constructed to cause queues of several hundred metres - according to the chief staff, the operation of the pavilion anticipated a quite low number of visitors, and waiting times "of around 15 to 30 minutes on busy days" were considered the maximum limit.
Waiting times of up to three hours were also not unheard of at the German restaurant - the Expo security guards were asking us to announce waiting times to the restaurant queue (which reached all the way to the Italian pavilion - more than 300 people). That was about the time when we started thinking about persuading the Bosnia pavilion to give up their "waiting time" space on the billboard for our restaurant.
Things got really crazy on the last weekend. People were so keen on souvenirs that they would buy anything from the German pavilion. On the last day at night, during the last three hours, we would wash the beer glasses in the dishwasher and carry them - still hot - downstairs where there was a horde of hundreds of souvenir hunters. This way, we managed to sell nearly the whole set of dishes and glasses from the German restaurant (only about 20 were left over on the next day). Clever attendants from the German pavilion started selling their uniforms for surreal amounts of money. The craziness continued until late into the night - the French shop owners kept selling for hours when the German shop was long closed.
· Swiss party
On the final night, after celebrating in the German pavilion for a while, many staff would take off towards the Swiss pavilion where the final party was held. Around midnight, finally the election for Miss and Mister Expo was held. Eight contesters from various countries presented themselves to the crowd to gain votes for the title. In the end, the male representative of Lithuania and the female representative of Italy won the title..
This evening, it was not about titles but about partying though. You could sense the relief in everybody that the Expo is now over. I had a pretty good time at the party - however, working for eleven days without a break did take its toll and forced me into the homebound taxi around four o'clock: work would start at eight in the morning on the next day.
· Next week: Turning off the lights