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Germany Set To Open World’s Fair

May 31, 2000

HANOVER, Germany (AP) _ The decision to give Germany its first-ever World’s Fair was made in the middle of 1990 _ in the delicate moments after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before the country’s peaceful reunification.

The fair opens Thursday and the world is a decidedly different place. Almost all remnants of the Wall are gone and the standoff between communism and capitalism ended mostly peacefully. The globe is linked by the Internet, where the Web brings faraway places to anyone’s desktop.

Organizers are already on the defensive about whether the $1.6 billion cost of staging Expo 2000 _ billed as the largest-ever fair _ is worthwhile in the information age.

It’s clear why they’re worried: The world’s richest country and trailblazer for new information technology, the United States, isn’t represented for the first time, unable to get enough corporate backing.

Instead, the United States is launching a Web site promoting cultural events _ including readings by writers William Styron and Art Buchwald _ running parallel to the fair in the central German city of Hanover.

On the plot designated for the American exhibit, the United Arab Emirates has built a desert stocked with camels.

``I myself think it is embarrassing for the United States to be everywhere in the world but the Expo,″ said Birgit Breuel, commisioner-general of the fair.

It’s not that there will be no U.S. presence at the 5-month fair, whose grounds are so vast it takes nine hours just to walk through. McDonald’s has six restaurants; IBM has set up a theme park with the assistance of experts from Disney’s Epcot Center. Coca-Cola and Yahoo! are corporate sponsors.

That’s exactly the kind of shift that illustrates the changing world in which this year’s fair is taking place _ with the new superpowers _ international corporations _ taking a lead role rather than countries.

The first World’s Fair, in 1851, was conceived by Britain’s Prince Albert as a vehicle for showcasing the British Empire’s technological progress.

Since then, fairs have left enduring marks: The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 fair; Seattle got its trademark Space Needle for the 1962 event; Brussels, Belgium, looked to the future of atomic energy with its enlarged sculpture of an atom, still a landmark after the 1958 fair.

Inventions such as aspirin, steam engines and huge cannons were the centerpieces of fairs past. Alexander Graham Bell showed off his telephone and Thomas Edison displayed a new telegraph and a motor for bicycles.

Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed.

World exhibitions until 1940 all had a decidedly colonial focus, with the world empires showing off the benefits of being under their flags.

Now pavilions have much humbler aims. Thailand’s theme is food. Bhutan has constructed a temple to depict religion in harmony with nature. The Netherlands showcases trees. Japan’s pavilion is made from 80 percent paper that will be entirely recycled later.

At the British pavilion, visitors pass an original door from 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence, followed by presentations highlighting Britain’s diversity.

``We aim to get a certain message over about the Brits rather than the stereotypical image that people have,″ said Alp Mehmet, press attache to the British Embassy in Berlin.

The front hall of Germany’s pavilion leads visitors past 47 larger-than-life sculptures of prominent people in German history, set in a maze of scaffolding designed to give the impression of the country as a work in progress. Hitler isn’t there, but Steffi Graf, Einstein and the Brothers Grimm are.

During the 153-day event, organizers hope 20-25 million visitors will stay for at least two days and purchase 40 million tickets at $32 each. Still, the fair is expected to lose money. Estimates for opening day attendance have already been cut from 200,000 to 150,000 _ and only about 56,000 tickets have been sold. Thousands of free tickets are being distributed.

Officials insist fair attendance will grow.

``Great exhibitions of the past were possibly the greatest events of their time,″ said Ole Philipson, chairman of the Expo’s steering committee. ``Because _ perhaps in spite of this new technology _ these hands-on events remain incredibly popular with people.″

The next fair is planned for 2005 in Japan, and officials at the International Exhibitions Organization say they already have many countries bidding for the 2010 fair.


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