In an Unfamiliar City, A Search for Fellowship


Head bowed in a moment of reflection, dreadlocks falling onto his orange sweater, Guy Treffre, a 26-year-old Parisian, is standing in a pew in a Warsaw church as midnight strikes.

On a night when much of the rest of the world is swimming in champagne and revelry, Treffre has forgone the luster of Paris for this millennial moment: A search for fellowship in the prayers of a language he doesn't speak in a gray, unfamiliar city.

"I wouldn't be anywhere else," said the young Frenchman, who works at a holiday camp for young people. "This is the perfect end to the century." And he is not alone in his choice of celebration. More than 70,000 young European Christians, from Dublin to Moscow, spent New Year's Eve in 200 Warsaw churches--to pray, sing, and have fun.

"We like to party, too," said Faber Taahan, a 17-year-old student from the Dutch town of Cabelle, near Rotterdam, who noted that ecumenical prayer services would be followed by dancing. "But on New Year's Eve, we are also proving that all the nations can be one. We want a better world. And if you can make a small change in yourself, you have made a small change in the world."

Outside, the night crackled with the sound of fireworks, but in the cool, vaulted church, midnight was greeted with a songburst of hope: That Europe's bloodiest century will give way to peaceful unity. The wishing was not at all solemnity and ceremony. Midnight brought a communion of smiling young faces, suffused not with bubbly or vodka, but a shared idealism, a belief that the young can make a better future.

"Europeans are coming together," said Zlatka Ligosova, 24, an elementary school teacher from Banska Bystrica in Slovakia. "All of us can share the same kind of love. We're singing. We're praying. We're happy. Isn't this a great way to welcome the new millennium?"

"Happy New Year," they said in a mixture of languages that needed no translation. "Happy New Year." And the working theme of this gathering--"Astonished by Joy"--seemed to find some culminating expression in the hugs and handshakes.

"Love deserves all our efforts," said Malgorzata Szymanska, 28, a travel guide from the Polish city of Poznan. "I think that's our message for the next century."

Organizers of the gathering--officially called the Young Adult European Meeting--said they chose Warsaw for this jubilee moment because the city, so scarred by the wars of this century, is now representative of the new possibilities for openness and understanding on the continent. The meeting brought together faithful from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches, including young people from nearly all the formerly Communist-ruled countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

"We can pray with different people in different languages, and we can try to understand our differences," said Anna Jasiulewicz, 17, a student from the town of Nowy Dwor Mazowiecki, 30 miles outside Warsaw. "And that's a really good feeling. I think it's better than staying at home in front of the television and drinking, which is what most people will do.

"But not me," she added. "Not all of us. This is a special New Year's Eve."

-- Peter Finn

Burdened by History, A Cautious Celebration


Perhaps no other city in the world epitomizes the front line of contemporary history as this sprawling metropolis. Two world wars, the Holocaust, Nazi and Communist dictatorships, the Cold War, the Wall and its eventual demise have laid out moral markers that will leave an indelible impact on the character of Europe's biggest nation and its 82 million people.

It was thus inevitable that even the most innocent concept of a millennium celebration would conjure up haunting images from the past. As nearly 2 million people toasted the 2000 amid riotous colors shooting 20 miles into the sky while illuminating the Brandenburg Gate and the newly renovated Reichstag, many of them may not have realized that the party's centerpiece--the "Art in Heaven" laser and light extravaganza--almost never came to pass.

In this capital so spooked by 20th century ghosts, the show's organizers and city authorities waged an emotional struggle almost down to the final hour over whether the festive light display would be unsettling because it might resemble the floodlit spectaculars designed by Hitler's favorite architect, Albert Speer.

The original plan called for towers of white light to suffuse the Winged Victory column that celebrates Germany's 1871 military victory over France. The goddess atop the monument would be bathed in an ethereal glow from the high voltage concentration of 250 spotlights.

The trouble was, the planned spectacle bore an eerie similarity to the huge military parade that marked Hitler's birthday in 1938. The three-mile stretch of boulevard cutting through the Brandenburg Gate that served as the venue for the city's New Year's Eve party was also the main axis of Hitler's new capital Germania, where parades of goose-stepping soldiers and torch-bearing youths would salute him as floodlights illuminated the heavens.

"We knew the whole world would be watching so we thought we had to be extra careful," said Petra Reetz, a spokeswoman for the city planning department. "It was a very striking aesthetic, but unfortunately it had these Nazi parallels."

Reluctant to see their show scratched because of Speer's haunting shadow, producer Achim Perleberg and his designers decided to recast their concept to take account of those sensitivities. They finally won permission after shifting the focus from harsh beams of soaring white light to a kaleidoscope of colors that--in the eyes of city authorities--seemed less redolent of Speer's imperialistic imagery.

In his New Year's address, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reminded his fellow Germans that after a century of wars and dictatorships, "we bear a special moral responsibility to maintain a special awareness of our past, or else we cannot find a good path into the future."

-- William Drozdiak

In the City of Light, A Countdown By Watch


For 999 days, a giant digital clock on the north face of the Eiffel Tower counted down the days to the millennial new year, beckoning the world to celebrate in the City of Light. But five and a quarter hours before midnight, the counter abruptly went dark after two power interruptions.

Like some premonition of a Y2K bug, the computer-operated clock had deprogrammed itself automatically and could not be reactivated in time for a French countdown much of the world might have watched on television.

Mayor Jean Tiberi stopped by the main viewing site across the Seine from the tower during the agonizing wait. He joked, a little testily, that the glitch might be a U.S. plot, and quipped that "we'll be opening an investigation into this."

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of revelers who were jammed on the banks of the Seine to wait for the midnight hour had to resort to what a Tiberi aide, Jerome Peyrat, advised as a backstop: "Look at your watch."

At three minutes to midnight by many watches, the embarrassing glitch was forgotten in the brilliant glare of 20,000 switched-on strobe lights adorning the Eiffel Tower.

For 10 minutes the horde stood subdued--though not mute--as the 111-year-old "temporary" structure, now as permanent a symbol of Paris as any, erupted in wave after wave of ooh- and aah-inspiring fireworks. Cast against the billowing smoke, the Eiffel Tower seemed to teeter from the explosions of light and pounding sound.

At the edge of the pulsing crowd two young women crawled over police barricades and were pulled to safety. Tears streaked their glitter. They were from Germany. They had lost their friend in the crowd. Against the backdrop of the amazing pyrotechnics, they hugged one another, sobbing.

"Don't worry, be happy," soothed a security guard, in English, as he found them two plastic flutes of champagne.

Once the smoke cleared from the tower, the action switched immediately to the Champs Elysees, where an array of 11 huge wheels began to spin, each symbolizing an artist's variation on a millennial theme. Firecrackers and fireworks exploded in the crowds, champagne was sprayed from balconies on cheering passersby and the animal in everyone seemed to come to the fore.

This was a mass moment, but it was composed of countless individual ones. "If it was up to me, I might have stayed home. But my wife said we had to come for him," said Olivier Guerrant, pointing at the papoose slung to his chest, sound asleep in the swirl and din.

Not long after midnight, the big numbers on the Eiffel Tower reappeared to announce, to no one's surprise, the year 2000.

-- Charles Trueheart

CAPTION: Parisians and tourists stroll down the Champs Elysees, past 11 giant Ferris wheels shortly after the stroke of midnight. More than 1 million people attended the festivities in the City of Light.