Switzerland is a very beautiful country with much diversity packed into a small area. Four official languages, many lakes, meticulously tended farmland, old historic villages, modern cities and Europe's tallest mountains can all be found in a country about the same size as Vancouver Island. With this in mind, it must have been difficult to choose between the different sites offered for their Swiss National Exposition. The shores of three lakes, related by channels, was the venue chosen for Switzerland's Expo 2002.
These expos only happen approximately every 25 years. "Once a generation," my friend Roger Laveneaux, explained, " which makes sense because they want to note the changes that have occurred in the country. With less time the changes would not be so significant. Switzerland has been preparing for this for the past five years. There have been clips of the last one shown on TV, building up to this comparison with Switzerland today and the direction Switzerland is projected to develop in the future. Some of these changes may be reflected in much of the civilized world, such as the changes in technology." Roger went on to tell me that the Swiss consider themselves fortunate if they can see two of these national expositions in a lifetime.
The ingenuity of the Swiss was epitomized by the locations of Expo 2002. Not only are three lakes home to Expo 2002 but four cities, two languages and five sites, called "arteplages," make up the composite known as Expo 2000. Bienne, Morat, Neuchatel and Yverdon-les-Bains are the four cities, each situated on one of the three lakes, that played host to this national exposition. The fifth site is the floating arteplage called Jura. It shuttles between each of the four other arteplages, providing another entertainment venue. The border between the French speaking Swiss and the German speaking Swiss runs through this area, hence the two languages.
I only had time to visit Neuchatel,
but that was enough to impress me.
Situated on the lake, at first glimpse
the site looked like a landing space
for UFO's, rising from the water. Three huge mushroom-shaped roofs, known as galets cover
three of their pavilions. Each pavilion contains several different exhibitions devoted to Expo's
theme of nature and artifice.
A giant computer, named Ada, allowed visitors to interact with a huge computer system. The multicoloured, checkerboard floor was connected by sensor to Ada. Each square of the checkerboard lit from underneath when stepped upon. Visitors entering the large room immediately began an individual dance, some jumping from square to square, some taking long steps, others taking mincing steps. All were trying to fool Ada, but at the same time were demonstrating the way man and computers can develop an interactive relationship.
Magie de l'energie was an intriguing display in which a pantomimist preformed with water,
electricity and lights giving an impression of how water changes into electricity. This
pavilion highlighted our dependence on natural and artificial forms of energy. In another corner of the
arteplage, another pavilion, known as Manna, looking like a gigantic bowl of jelly, produced a
fairyland of food. Farther along the lake shore, the fun park included the largest
Ferris wheel in
Europe, which is very popular with the young crowd.
was most impressed with a large
wooden sphere known as Le Palais
de l'Equilibre. This imposing
structure housed a presentation
illustrating the fragile balance
between the world's economy,
society, and the environment.
Wood was cleverly crafted to
provide a geometric sun shield
around the outside facade of the
sphere. Swiss Douglas Fir,
indigenous to Switzerland, was
recycled from the Swiss Pavilion at
Hanover Universal Expo 2000 and
used to produce this structure.
Entering the lower floor I found
myself in a large, dark, open space, dominated by the bottom of a central globe. This hemi-sphere
was like a giant TV monitor with constantly changing, moving pictures showing some of the
environmental crises that have befallen the world - some very rivetting scenes to be sure.
Leaving this area, I walked up a circular ramp towards the upper floor. Some very thought provoking information was provided on the walls to be read as people pass by on their way to the top. These and other facts, found there, gave me something to ponder:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlaws slavery and gives all citizens of the world the right to an education, (small comfort for those held in slavery or unable to access education, I would think!)
1 in 10 people in the world owns a car; in Switzerland the ratio is 1 in 2; in China 1 in 300
1 in 12 people have malaria ; 1 in 9 suffer from malnutrition;
1 in 13 surf the web; 40 % of web connections are in USA; 4 % in Latin America
For every 176 people of this earth, one has AIDS and the ratio is growing;
In South Africa 2 out of every 3 teenagers will die from AIDS before they are adults;
1 in 269 of the world's population is protected by the High Commissariat for Refugees.
These were only some of the facts presented for people to ponder.
Circling around to the top I came out on the upper floor, where the top of the sphere provided a more optimistic view of the world. Here the globe brought to mind: the beauty of nature, the flowers, the mountains, clear blue skies - all things that we have taken for granted in the past and must never take for granted again.
I was accommodated at a comfortable hotel, situated directly across the street from the railway station, an especially convenient location. The Swiss are a very resourceful people, as can be seen by two innovative ideas for very reasonably priced accommodation for visitors to Expo. Right next door to the Fun Park was a unique guest park. To me it looked like an old Indian village, complete with teepees, ready to accommodate guests - be they families or singles - a multitude of reasonably priced beds were available there. Another innovative idea for the young crowd was their youth hostel. Two sets of four railway sleeper cars were brought in on parallel tracks, under a large roof. Each car contained compartments that held six bunks. The covered area between the rail cars was used as a common area. Here, breakfast was served and people gathered to socialize. A variety of food outlets could be found at the Arteplage.
Access to the site was easy. Neuchatel built a funicular for commuting down the hill between the rail station and the Expo site. When Expo ended, the funicular continued to serve a useful purpose in transporting students between the rail station and the university.
Switzerland's Expo 2002 offered an assortment of entertainment events and much to see, however Neuchatel itself is a lovely old historic town situated on the shore of a picturesque lake, with a fabulous view of the Alps. It will still be well worth a visit now that Expo 2002 is only a wonderful memory.
Story and Pictures by M. Maxine George
Magic Carpet Journals
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