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Expo.02 looks back with mixed emotions

The giant cloud structure in Yverdon is being dismantled and may go to the European Space Agency

(Keystone)

It's one year since Switzerland's national exhibition, Expo.02, flung open its doors, after numerous financial and management setbacks.

In their final report, Expo's organisers say the event was a hit with the general public, despite being plagued by cash flow problems.

Several injections of cash, coupled with management changes, moments of self-doubt, rocky political support and an opening date that was pushed back a few times almost sealed Expo's fate.

But, despite the hurdles, one of the four host towns, Neuchâtel, staged an elaborate opening ceremony on May 14 last year.

Over 10 million tickets were sold during the event's five-month long existence, with 90 per cent of visitors satisfied with their visit, according to the report.

Lessons

Martin Heller, the event's artistic director, says the final report into the mammoth national exhibition aims to "draw together the lessons learned about Switzerland and about how to stage the next Expo."

As with the 1964 edition of the national exhibition, financing was a recurring problem, says the report.

The initial budget, which predicted that private investments would total SFr800 million ($607 million) was "a financial utopia", it says.

Isolated

The report also highlights that the event was not without its critics.

The distant attitude adopted by many politicians underlined "the extreme solitude of Expo throughout the project's life," wrote Director Nelly Wenger.

Wenger's report, handed to the government last week, is a personal account of how the 2002 event was staged. Wenger hopes this will be of use to organisers of Switzerland's next exhibition.

All is not lost

Organisers say Expo.02, which took place in the four lakeside towns of Yverdon, Biel, Neuchâtel and Murten, was designed to be a short-lived event.

The dance halls, bars, toilets, exhibition rooms and theatres were constructed with their eventual dismantling in mind. At a cost of SFr160 million ($121 million), almost everything was taken apart.

However, some traces remain. In Biel for example, the game centre and the bridge over the Suze are still intact.

The European Centre for Nuclear Research has shown interest in taking over the Palace of Equilibrium in Neuchâtel.

And the panoramic painting of the Battle of Murten, on display in Murten, will eventually be transferred either to Bern's Historical Museum or to the Papiliorama in canton Fribourg.

Revenues

Expo generated a total of SFr2.49 billion ($1.88 billion), including SFr1.2 billion for the "Three Lakes" region that hosted the event.

Cooperation between the four towns was key to the event's success and Expo conveyed the "spirit of the region", believes Jean-Claude Baudoin, a politician who was also involved in Expo's construction.

But Baudoin believes it failed to inject the area with a new economic dynamism.

Memorabilia

Fifty per cent of Swiss visited their national exhibition, where a whole raft of souvenirs could be bought.

The Swiss Federal Archives also swallowed up a vast amount of Expo memorabilia - information on the project is taking up 50 kilometres of filing cabinets.

Work on archiving this data is expected to be complete by January 2004, says the project leader, Dominik Slapping, though the information will only be accessible to the general public in 30 years' time.

National cohesion

Organisers of Expo hope the exhibition brought about a sense of national cohesion - but, just one year on, it is too early to say whether they fulfilled this dream.

But it seems clear that German-speaking Swiss were brought closer to their French-speaking counterparts, with many people from Zurich travelling to the event.

Wenger is certain that Expo was a moment "of nostalgia, of pride".

Jean-Yves Pidoux, writing for the French-language newspaper "Le Temps", believes "Expo imbued the Swiss with a taste for partying on a national scale, as well as creativity and architecture."

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson (translation: Samantha Tonkin)

Key facts

Expo.02 will present its final financial report in 2004.
According to organisers, no extra funds will be needed to make up a shortfall.
The government contributed SFr930 million out of a total budged of SFr1.6 billion. The anticipated deficit will amount to SFr563 million.

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