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Global Countdown

March 09, 1997|FRANCES ANDERTON

Australia -- The year 2001 marks the anniversary of the federation of Australia, but that historic event will be upstaged by the 2000 Olympics. According to the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, not only is millennium a theme used in the promotion and marketing of the games, but, says a spokesperson, "we have tied our environmental policies into the millennium as a package to take us into the future." In addition to new train lines, stations and water-ferry terminals and a new main stadium, aquatic center and other sports venues--all financed by a consortium of state and private companies--Sydney is aiming to put itself on the map as a city of the future by pushing a strong environmental agenda. The city is constructing an Olympic Park on reclaimed industrial land and building a "solar" Athletes Village of 1,000 dwellings designed according to strict environmental guidelines.

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France -- Paris started out ahead of the game 10 years ago by mounting, on the piazza in front of the famous Pompidou Center, a large digital clock that is counting down to midnight, Dec. 31, 1999. Since then, recession, strikes and other concerns have overshadowed plans a bit, but officials recently announced the formation of a millennium committee headed by Jean Jacques Aillagon, president of the Pompidou Center, former cultural director of Paris and a favorite of President Jacques Chirac. With Gallic rhetoric, the committee has launched itself with the slogan "La France, L'Europe, le monde, une terre pour tous les hommes" (France, Europe, the world, one earth for all people) and plans to announce on April 4, 1997 (1,000 days before Jan. 1, 2000) a program of events that will take place in historical, cultural, rural, urban and industrial locations nationwide.

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Germany -- Looking forward to a better century than the last, Germany will package several different anniversaries into one nationwide millennium festival that, according to L.A.-based German consul Margit Hberle, embraces "the environment, culture and politics." The year 2000 will mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, the 600th anniversary of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg and the 950th birthday of the city of Nuremberg, as well as another staging of the famous Oberammergau Passion Plays, held once every 10 years. Most significant, however, is Expo 2000. This World's Fair will take place in the city of Hanover from June through October 2000. In preparation for the 20 million expected visitors, Hanover is expanding the Berlin-Hanover rail line and building, among other facilities, a new light-rail line, a new mainline railway station and a third airport terminal. And the German parliament and government will move to Berlin by 2000. There, at a cost of about $13 billion, they are presently expanding and renovating the Reichstag.

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Great Britain -- No one is getting more excited about the millennium than the British. With a zeal that's astonishing its neighbors, Britain is engaged in a nationwide building program and an ambitious millennium festival funded in large part by the vast proceeds of a new national lottery. The Millennium Commission is distributing generous grants to selected environmental and urban projects that range from the grand--a 2,500-mile, cross-country Millennium Cycle Route, a Millennium Seed Bank of 25,000 species of worldwide flora at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and a new $300-million Tate Gallery of Modern Art--to the modest: renovations of village halls and a project to light 400 churches across the country. In addition, there are plans to create an ambitious and highly controversial millennium exhibition at Greenwich, home of Greenwich Mean Time. This would involve the urban renewal of a toxic piece of wasteland and the construction of a $1-billion domed structure for exhibits. And Prince Charles, concerned by the "lack of spiritual content" in the British millennium, has thrown his support behind a millennial Spiritual Retreat, to be erected in London.

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Ireland -- Dublin had millennium plans that got off to a soggy start. Excited Dubliners plunged an elaborate and technically sophisticated clock (the result of an Irish National Lottery-sponsored competition) into the River Liffey. Its face was to have been visible through the water. Unfortunately, its casing sprang a leak and the clock became covered in algae, so it had to be dragged back out. It was, said an employee at Dublin Corp., a "typically Irish kind of disaster."

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