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Expo 64 Switzerland somewhere between tradition and modernity

In 1964, the Second World War was well into the past for ordinary citizens, but the Cold War was being played out. Switzerland needed to show a united and defiant front to foreign threats, but also wanted to be open and modern. Expo 64 was the child of these contradictory aspirations.

From April to October 1964, the national exhibition attracted more than 12 million visitors to Lausanne. Before that, there were exhibitions in Zurich in 1883, Geneva in 1896, Bern in 1914 and Zurich again in 1939. The last national exhibition was held in the Three-Lakes region in 2002.

Getting the 1964 exhibition up and running was a protracted process, almost a remake of the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns. Expo 64 was a sign of the times: faster modernisation, infrastructure development, but also a changing society, new identities and fresh desires.

Seen as an invitation to think about the state of the nation, the so-called "Swiss Path" was the backbone connecting the eight sections of the exhibition. These included five short films about daily life and the game "Gulliver", which asked the Swiss about their lives and democracy.

But the pavilions turned over to labour, agriculture, transport or education were also a giant mirror of Swiss society, unified but diverse at the same time. Expo 64 was also a major launch pad for artists such as Jean Tinguely and his mad machines or the painter Hans Erni.

(Photos: Keystone, RDB. Original French text: Isabelle Eichenberger)

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