All is forgiven as Expo.02 closes its doors

The last visitors leave Yverdon's Cloud Keystone

Switzerland has reacted with uncharacteristic emotion to the closing of its national exhibition, Expo.02.

This content was published on October 21, 2002 - 08:22

Tears were shed at the closing ceremony in Neuchâtel on Sunday and by Monday even the media were lamenting its passing.

The months of controversy, recriminations, and complaints about soaring costs were forgotten, as the curtain finally fell on the five-month show.

For the "Berner Zeitung", this Expo was the best ever (there have been six), and even the normally staid "Bund" got carried away by the occasion, writing: "It's time to go".

The Lausanne-based "Matin" looked back fondly on Expo as the "idol of the people", saying that the exhibition's well-documented financial troubles "had suddenly become quite secondary, and will only come much later".

The Zurich papers kept the costs in mind, but sensed that today was not the time to conduct a post-mortem. "Expensive but beautiful" was the commentary in the Zurich's "Tages-Anzeiger" newspaper.

The no-nonsense "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" wryly observed that, as the country lamented Expo's passing, only the taxpayers had been forgotten. The show will eventually cost them about SFr1 billion.

The Geneva-based "Le Temps" also picked up on the deficit Expo was leaving behind as the last visitors headed home in the early hours of Monday morning.

After the emotion of the final day, the paper wrote on its front page, "now it will be the time for accounting".

"Expo has finished, but its financial heritage will keep the Swiss parliament busy for some time to come."

Public satisfaction

The public seemed not to care, and were intent on enjoying the last day of the last Expo for at least another 25 years. On Sunday, over 180,000 people visited the exhibition sites in Yverdon, Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten - the largest number of visitors in a single day since the opening of Expo.02 in May.

The celebrations - illuminated by fireworks and tearful speeches - ended at 0400 on Monday morning. But not before 26 musical groups - representing each of the 26 Swiss cantons - took their turn to bid Expo farewell.

Around 500 specially invited guests - including the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin - attended the official closing ceremony, which was broadcast live on Swiss television from the "Théâtre des Roseaux" auditorium in Neuchâtel.

The host, Mariano Tschuor, switched effortlessly among the four Swiss national languages - French, German, Italian and Romansch - making sure no Swiss was left out.

Words of praise

During his closing ceremony address, Couchepin said Expo could be called a success because it had managed to "unite the three trump cards which make Switzerland what it is: its landscape, its creative...talents and the enthusiasm of its people.

"We have lived through a major political and human experience," he said. "Our generation has succeeded in contributing something to the history of Switzerland."

The fact that more than ten million visitors had seen the exhibition, added Couchepin, was proof that Expo had "lived up to people's expectations".

Franz Steinegger, Expo.02 president, used his speech to apologise for the long waiting times experienced by visitors forced to queue up to see many of the exhibits.

But he emphasised that "Expo.02 had shown that Switzerland is alive and well".

Nelly Wenger, the general director of the exhibition, said the "spirit of Expo" would live on in the collective memories of all those who had visited it. With tears in her eyes she added that "from tomorrow and for evermore, the Expo doors will be closed. It's the end and that really saddens me."

Ending in the red

Figures indicate that even though Expo.02 is set to finish well in the red - estimates suggest that despite government subsidies the event will show a deficit of around SFr550 million - more than half of all Swiss have paid for at least one trip to one of the national exhibition sites.

The last night of the 2002 national exhibition concluded with a series of outdoor appearances across all four Expo sites by steel drummers, musicians, masked dancers and street theatre performers.

Following an official closing declaration from the mayors of the towns which hosted Expo, there were simultaneous firework displays set to music at all four of the arteplages.

Expo finally closed it doors to the public in the early hours of Monday morning, making way for teams charged with the task of dismantling the four exhibtion sites.


In brief

Expo.02 officially closed its doors to the public after 159 days on Sunday night.

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, said the exhibition had contributed something to the history of Switzerland.

More than ten million tickets were sold during the five-month run of the exhibition.

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