NEW YORK – Millions of people will have seen Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s saffron feast in Central Park by Sunday when the 7,500-gate exhibit folds.

To talk to them all was impossible. But the phenomenal mix of visitors – some who came from a world away, others from just a block – was revealed by a day spent at just one gate.

As the rising sun glistened on the saffron fabric, two jet-lagged Germans took an early walk under gate No. 8430, billowing at the top of the Great Lawn with the city’s skyline as a dramatic backdrop.

“We woke up at 6 a.m. and said, “Let’s go. Let’s see it,”‘ Thomas Tyllack, 36, of Berlin said. “It’s amazing to actually be here.

“We came to New York just to see “The Gates.’ We’ve been so excited about it since we heard about it last summer.”

His friend Dirk Lawritsch, 41, who runs a painting company, said, “It’s so strange, it really is amazing.

“We saw the Reichstag after they covered it in 1995, and that took our breath away,” he said in reference to Berlin’s Parliament building. “I wouldn’t miss this exhibition for anything.”

The upper East and West Side’s army of dog walkers made up the bulk of early morning visitors last Friday.

Maltese pup Ringo sniffed the heavy metal base of No. 8430 enthusiastically, before being dragged off by owner Tracy Porter, 24, an advertising salesperson from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“I guess art’s not really his thing,” she deadpanned.

Gate monitor Jeanne Brasile, 37, from Bergen County, N.J., starts her shift at 7:30 a.m.

“People ask me what it means,” she said, snuggled in layers to keep off the winter chill. “It means nothing. It’s just beautiful. Even the joggers are running with smiles on their faces.”

But for 8-year-old Alyssa Keller, the 5:30 a.m. drive from Philadelphia didn’t seem worth it.

“Is this all we came to see?” she asked her mom.

“She’ll be glad she came one day,” said her unapologetic mother, Kelly Keller. “I think she’ll be seeing pictures of this event for a long time to come.”

As the morning wore on, the visiting throngs increased.

Adam Eckstein, 10, from Hunter College Elementary School in Manhattan, was more interested in athletics than art as his classmates took a tour.

“I can reach them if I really jump and the wind’s not blowing,” he said, leaping at the orange fabric.

“I think they’re cool. I like the color. The park’s dead for winter, but this color makes it look warm.”

George Chien, 70, and his wife Ann, 69, from Hackensack, N.J., showed off pictures of penguins as they passed the gate.

“We just got back from a trip to Antarctica in time to see this,” he said. “From Antarctica to Central Park, and the park’s colder.”

New Rochelle High School art teacher Scott Seaboldt spent his lunchtime showing his class the nuances of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s creation.

“We’ve been studying their work in the classroom and it’s great to come here and actually experience it – though some of the students think it looks like a shower curtain,” he said.

Student Nicole Frumkin, 14, said, “I’ve been looking at it and trying to see what their reasons are, what they’re trying to say, but I can’t.

“It makes the park look like a big construction site.”

French documentary maker Arvin Murch has been living and working in New York for about 20 years.

His camera captured gate No. 8430 for a film being made by city-based Albert Maysles studios.

“I’m trying to capture the flow, the wind, the colors,” he said as the late afternoon winter sunshine danced off the saffron.

“Everything changes when the wind catches it. It’s really something.”

As the sun went down, psychologist Joe Zucker, 67, from the Upper East Side, parked his bicycle and did push-ups against a park bench next to the gate.

“What a perfect place to relax and watch the sun set,” he said.

“I didn’t like “The Gates’ at first. I thought it would be an upheaval for people who use the park, but now I’ve seen it, I love it.

“It’s a moment in Central Park history.”



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