In Germany, too, the crowds are flocking to see their millennial folly

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The Independent Online

The sense of doom has lifted, and Germany's millennial folly is in party mood. Crowds have been flocking to Expo 2000 in Hanover in the past two weeks and on Tuesday there will be even more to celebrate: Expo is closing.

The sense of doom has lifted, and Germany's millennial folly is in party mood. Crowds have been flocking to Expo 2000 in Hanover in the past two weeks and on Tuesday there will be even more to celebrate: Expo is closing.

It is a measure of the appeal of the exhibits that the internet auction of them launched yesterday is expected to raise no more than 30m marks (£9m).

Figures on the debit side are rather more impressive. The organisers and the government had reckoned on a 400m mark deficit but losses are weighing in at six times that. Every man, woman and child in Germany will be 30 marks out of pocket as a result of a project designed to sell the spirit of German entrepreneurship and creativity. In light of that, corporate America's refusal to sponsor a US pavilion now seems a shrewd business decision.

But, thanks to the last-minute rush, attendance figures at the Expo, which opened on 1 June, are better than had been feared. Numbers picked up when prices were cut; schools marched classes in and sponsors gave staff a day off so long as they took a train Hanover.

The efforts paid off: attendance numbers are heading for 18 million, among the lowest at a world exhibition in past decades but better than Lisbon's 10 million figure two years ago. Under these circumstances, it would be churlish to ask how many of Expo's guests bought their tickets at full price. Such figures are not available, in any case.

The organisers will now happily admit that their original projections of 40 million had been an elaborate con trick. Hanover, capital of the Land of Lower Saxony, was desperate for federal funds to improve its infrastructure, and simply cooked the books.

Roland Berger, a management consultant advising the Expo, yesterday said he told the regional government to expect no more than 26 million visitors and a deficit of at least 1.6bn marks. Among those warned about the looming disaster was Gerhard Schröder, then the regional Prime Minister, and now federal Chancellor. He has generously stumped up federal taxpayers' money to bail out his bankrupt home town.

When Expo closes its gates,a political dispute over the white elephant is certain to erupt. More importantly, as in the case of the Dome, in Greenwich, south-east London, the fiasco did nothing to improve the image of the organising country. This is the first - and no doubt last - world expo staged by Germany.

The host nation had set out to dispel clichés and present itself as an unbuttoned kind of people forever in search of fun. But the show was dull, dull, dull. And the only local dignitary conforming to the revised stereotype was Prinz Ernst August, a distant relation of the Queen, caught in a photograph urinating against the Turkish pavilion. He had consumed too much champagne, he later admitted.

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