The EXPO 2000 — Germany EXPOsed

Did Germany miss the “New Economy” train when it set up the world exhibition?

June 13, 2000

Did Germany miss the "New Economy" train when it set up the world exhibition?

One of the biggest setbacks for EXPO 2000 was that the United States decided to pull out less than two months before the opening ceremony. This caused consternation and anger among the German organizers, who — feeling like jilted lovers — vowed to push on regardless.

Mutterings about the re-emergence of U.S. isolationism soon followed. But the snub was mostly due to a 1994 law enacted by the U.S. Congress, forbidding the use of taxpayer’s money for participation in world fairs and similar events.

The organizers of the planned U.S. pavilion spent months trying to secure proper financing. All they needed to turn the exhibit into a reality was $40 million — surely a paltry sum for the richest nation on earth. In the end, however, they were unable to raise the necessary funds and eventually threw in the towel.

It seems the United States approached the Expo with more realism than other countries. Americans simply have a closer eye on the bottom line. Things might have turned out differently if the Expo was not just a showcase, but an event where business people met and actually made deals.

The mere idea of representing the United States seems absurd to many U.S. firms in this global age. Why should they have the Stars and Stripes flying next to their logo when they see themselves as global players?

Without an American pavilion, the dozen McDonald’s outlets located throughout Hannover’s Expo grounds will be perceived by many visitors as the main U.S. representation — reinforcing stereotypes that many Americans probably could do without.

If Germans were honest with themselves, they have little reason to be angry with the Americans. The fact that the most wired economy in the world decided to ignore Expo sends a powerful message: world fairs are a thing of the past.

The digital revolution has rendered showcase jamborees of this kind irrelevant. Already, there is a world exhibition in progress all the time. And most people with the money to travel to Hannover in Germany would rather see more by staying at home — and surfing the Net.

Rather than sulk, Germans should take comfort in the fact that they just happened to have the misfortune to be the first country to experience this new phenomenon in full swing. When the German government applied to host Expo back in the late 1980’s, no-one could have foreseen the power and reach of the Internet ten years later. In that regard, the organizers of EXPO 2000 in Hannover shouldn’t feel too bad — it could have happened to anyone.