Expo 2000 rolls out the welcome mat

Berlin and Bayreuth, Munich and Heidelberg, Dresden and Cologne. For multiple reasons of history and culture, those German cities are well known as tourist destinations.

Now it's Hanover's turn. For 153 days - June 1 through Oct. 31 - Lower Saxony's state capital goes prime time, hosting Expo 2000, a world's fair with the theme "Humankind, Nature, Technology."

Since their 1851 debut in London's Crystal Palace, world's fairs have worked ample doses of engineering and consumer-product hype into their visionary outlooks. Hence Alexander Graham Bell's telephone in Philadelphia (1876) and Henry Ford's Model T in San Francisco (1915). Newly invented ice-cream cones got licked at the St. Louis World Fair (1904).

Expo 2000 has a futuristic slant, too, but with contemporary aims: preserving planet Earth's limited resources and proposing solutions to global quality-of-life problems.

It delves into the far-reaching possibilities of communication via the artificial intelligence of computer "brainpower," energy consumption and conservation, feeding burgeoning populations, and preventing and conquering diseases.

Pavilions sponsored by 184 nations and organizations are showpieces of environmental awareness. Turbine windmills whirl in a lake atop the Netherlands' five-level "sandwich" of trees, tulip beds, dunes and other natural elements. All of the cardboard tubes and coated paper used to construct Japan's pavilion will be recycled after Expo's closing.

Spain's amphitheater consists primarily of reusable cork. Norway's wood-and-aluminum enclosure contains a thundering, walk-behind waterfall. A grove of birch trees fills the Finnish pavilion. Singapore's features a tropical roof garden.

Ecological concerns blend with diverse elements of national heritage - chunks of the Great Wall support China's pavilion; Ethiopia's 3.5-million-year-old "Lucy" skeleton; Roman-antiquity mosaics from Croatia; Jordanian archaeological finds; Egyptian hieroglyphics; a replicated Moroccan marketplace and traditionally blue-walled Moldovian farmhouse. Germany's curved glass facade seems to float above the building.

Don't travel to Hanover expecting to see a US entry. One had been designed and readied for construction, but the funding couldn't be found.

There's no lack of spectacle and entertainment in Expo's lineup of special attractions. A nightly half-hour dazzler called Flambe, conceived by France's Pierre-Alain Hubert, combines fireworks, laser beams, "human torches," computer-activated fountains, and films projected onto shimmering walls of water.

Appearances by high-profile ensembles range from Pina Bausch's acclaimed Tanztheater Wuppertal to the Vienna Boys' Choir, the Frankfurt Ballet to the French National Symphony.

Fairgoers have rock, jazz, folk and ethnic-music options: Al Jarreau, Shirley Bassey, Ray Charles, Bobby McFerrin, B.B. King, and French pop songstress Patricia Kaas will guest-perform with the NDR Hanover Pops Orchestra. After sunset, movies are shown on Europe's biggest outdoor screen.

Impressario Peter Stein is presenting a production of Goethe's unabridged "Faust, Parts I and II." Staged in consecutive two-day segments, three hours each day over a two-month period, the theatrical marathon premieres July 22 to 23.

Visitors to Expo 2000 will find that central Hanover's main railroad terminal has been refurbished and enlarged; so has outlying Langenhagen Airport. And there's a brand-new train station (Hanover/Laatzen, on Germany's high-speed InterCity Express network) at the western fringe of Expo's Kronsberg fairgrounds. The commuting time from downtown to the Kronsberg site, via an U-Bahn subway line or S-Bahn rapid-transit commuter rail service, takes 20 minutes.

Also new: a sleek InterCity Express station at always-busy Frankfurt Airport, with hourly train service direct to Expo.

You won't want to leave Hanover without seeing its other attractions. In the city center, visitors can get their bearings by following the Rote Faden (Red Thread). A two-mile strip painted on pavements, it slithers through downtown as a self-guided sightseeing route connecting three dozen points of interest.

One is the New Town Hall - "new" describing a neo-Gothic municipal behemoth dating from 1913, therefore a youngster compared with its 15th-century predecessor, which now houses trendy shops.

Stroll behind the New Town Hall to reach the Maschsee, an artificial lake favored by Hanoverians for boating, picnicking, and all-purpose hanging-out. Two top-notch museums overlook the eastern shore. The Sprengel displays a wide-ranging collection of modern art, including an impressive array of Picassos. The Landesmuseum features works by Rembrandt, Drer, Holbein, and Monet.

Walking trails curve through Hanover's Eilenriede city forest, which sprawls beyond elegant east-side neighborhoods and encompasses an excellent zoo.

On the city's western outskirts (reachable by No. 4 or 5 tram), the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen were begun three centuries ago as a duke's summer estate. Pathways lined with marble statues and 1,399 lime trees shade this baroque horticultural fantasy, punctuated by Europe's tallest fountain, spouting 270 feet skyward. Summertime audiences applaud plays and ballets performed on the Garden Theater's outdoor stage.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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