After years of confusion, problems and cash crises, Switzerland's national exhibition, Expo.02, finally opens its doors on Wednesday.
For the sixth time in its history, Switzerland is inviting people to a massive national exhibition set in one of the country's most charming regions - the Three Lakes Region. The aim is to show Switzerland as a diverse and ever-changing country.
The lakeside towns of Murten, Biel, Neuchâtel and Yverdon-les Bains are providing the backdrop to Expo.02's "arteplages", or exhibition sites, housing some 38 pavilions.
The sites are brought together under different themes, with "Power and Freedom" in Biel, "Instant and Eternity" in Murten, "Natural and Artifice" in Neuchâtel, "Me and the Universe" in Yverdon-les-Bains and "Meaning and Movement" on a boat, which will sail across the lakes as a floating arteplage.
No chocolate and cheese
For the next five months, Switzerland will be presenting a very different image to its popular stereotype of chocolate and cheese by inviting visitors from home and abroad to explore what's on show at Expo .02.
"We want this exhibition to appeal to visitors on many levels. It should give out warm vibes but should also invite people to analyse and question what it means," says Nelly Wenger, the exhibition's general director. "Expo wants to show that Switzerland is diverse and forever changing."
In the past, previous Swiss national exhibitions have helped shape their respective generations. For example, the last one in 1964 gave visitors a glimpse of the new world in which technology would play a decisive role. Earlier in 1939, the national exhibition helped strengthen the Swiss military.
The question now being asked is what will be the effects of Expo.02?
The extravaganza line up is extensive - 1,500 exhibits with more than 10,000 planned shows and performances, as well as special themed days. Organisers expect that the packed schedule will attract around five million visitors.
Ideas for Expo.02 were first floated more than eight years ago and over the years the project has not always been plain sailing - the management was changed and financial, personal and administrative problems cast a shadow over the whole affair.
The Swiss parliament had repeatedly to dig into the public purse to keep the project alive - all in all the taxpayer has stumped up more than SFr838 million - more than half the total SFr1.5 billion ($1 billion) Expo.02 budget.