by Roderick Conway Morris

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Hannover Races to Get Its Futuristic Expo Ready for Opening in 2000

By Roderick Conway Morris
HANNOVER 21 April 1998
Shigeru Ban
Shigeru Ban's Japan Pavilion at Hannover Expo 2000



The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, of which the Hanoverian Queen Victoria and her husband and cousin Prince Albert were prime movers, started the craze for giant international expositions. Curiously, although numerous similar events have been held around the globe since, no German city has ever hosted one. But today's Hanoverians will finally get the chance when the capital of Lower Saxony stages Expo 2000, which opens June 1 of the millennial year.

'The origins of Hannover's bid to hold the Expo lie in a debate in the 1980s by a group of individuals here about the future of the planet,' said Birgit Breuel, then finance minister of Lower Saxony and, since 1995, Expo 2000's commissioner general. 'Out of this came the idea to apply for the World Expo. And, as we all came from around here, we decided to try to do it in Hannover since the trade fair grounds already existed here.'

The grounds cover more than 100 hectares (247 acres). To accommodate Expo, they will be expanded by a further 70 hectares on neighboring land.

Hannover won the competition to host the Expo over Toronto in 1990. In 1994, Expo 2000 Hannover GmbH, a consortium of national and local governments and German industry, was established.

So far, 164 nations have agreed to participate, but until now the only addition to the existing buildings at the fair grounds is a raised tubular moving walkway linking the yet-to-be-built high-speed train station to the site. Work has not yet begun on other major projects, which include an 18,000-seat arena, some 40 national pavilions, and new housing that, after the event, will constitute a new suburb for the city.

'Time is short, so we'll have to get a move on, but I'm confident we'll make it,' Mrs. Breuel said. 'We have a budget of roughly 3 billion Deutsche marks, and we expect to take 1.6 billion marks from selling tickets, which seems a fairly realistic prediction. We have raised about 30 to 35 percent of the total so far, which is more than we expected at this point, but we'll have to work hard to reach the final target.

'We are offering eight different formulas for companies wishing to participate. The top option is to become a 'world partner,' which costs 30 million marks and entitles you to take part in the whole range of Expo's activities and means your logo will appear on tickets, books, leaflets and all other official literature.' Deutsche Telekom, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, Baan Co., Preussag AG and Duales System Deutschland have already joined in this category.

There are no plans to build extra hotel accommodation in Hannover, but the city has access to up to 15,000 Messemuttis, or 'trade fair mums,' who will offer bed and breakfast in their homes. There will also be an 8,000-place camp site for budget travelers.

Martin Roth, since 1991 director of the archaically titled but highly praised German Hygiene Museum in Dresden and president of the German Museums Association, will oversee the creation of the 100,000-square-meter central thematic area which will be devoted to 'Humankind, Nature, Technology.' It aims to gaze into the 21st century and present the alternatives and challenges that humanity and the planet will have to face.

Mr. Roth has recruited an international team of what he calls 'scenographers,' including the French exhibitions designer Francois Confino and the Japanese architect Toyo Ito. Mr. Roth is clearly pleased to have secured the fair grounds' capacious old central pavilions, which he hopes to unify with a single facade, for his interlinking projects.

'To do shows of the kind we want to do, we needed huge dark boxes. What we didn't want was either daylight or pre-existing architecture. A beautiful new pavilion in steel and glass would have been no use at all. We have to be able to make holes in the roof, tear down walls and radically restructure - which is exactly what we're going to do,' he said.

Mr. Roth has a little more than 200 million marks to spend, and the projects he has planned promise to be both impressive and entertaining if the concepts on paper can be made a reality. For example, one of the sections, 'The Future of the Past' - 'the prologue and epilogue rolled into one,' he says - will consist of a vast, quasi-archaeological excavation of the multiple layers of the 21st century.

Sustainable development, and practical projects from all over the world suggesting how this can be achieved, will be a core theme running through the whole Expo, and this is consciously reflected in the cultural programs devised by the artistic director, dramatist and theater director, Tom Stromberg.

'I was convinced when I came here that the arts events should not all be one-offs, but should if possible run into the future,' said Mr. Stromberg, who has a budget of about 107 million marks, excluding technical costs such as staging and lighting. 'And I've promised that for every mark spent on established artists, another mark will be spent on young artists, young composers, young performers and brand new commissions.'

Some of Mr. Stromberg's programs are in fact already under way. There was a dance festival here last year, which will happen here every year until 2000 and beyond, and a theater festival will take place this year and then be held every two years after that. 'So when Expo's wound up, these festivals will live on in Hannover,' he said.

Expo has also adopted the Frankfurt-based Ensemble Moderne, which specializes in performing modern works, and will act as Expo 2000's traveling ambassadors.

Music of every variety, with short drop-in concerts during the day and full-blown events in the evening, will provide a continuous thread through the five months of the Expo.

The centerpiece of the cultural line-up will be Peter Stein's long-planned production of Goethe's 'Faust.' Mr. Stromberg aims to deliver 25 performances of the 18-hour play, divided over either six evenings or two evenings, as well as full-length marathon performances, during which the audience will mix, rest and eat with the cast.

With an entry ticket that has been set at 69 marks, Expo hopes to attract at least 40 million visitors, about 70 percent of whom are expected to come from Germany. 'The more foreigners that come, however, obviously the better,' said Mrs. Breuel. To prepare the Hanoverians for the onslaught, the organization has opened the EXPO Café in the center of town and it already seems quite a hit with locals.

Given the great number of special festivals around the world during 2000, the Hannover event will face stiffer competition than previous Expos. But Mrs. Breuel seemed optimistic. 'The state has underwritten any financial shortfall, but everybody here is very determined not to have to ask the taxpayer for anything. And, if we succeed, we reckon this will be the first event of this kind entirely paid for by private participants.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023