The Dos and Don’ts of Biking in Germany

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It’s that time of year. The shovels are being put away. The chains are oiled. The brakes are checked. And now with the sun coming out, the bike trails and streets are filling up with a pair of wheels, ridden by people with helmets; some of whom are towing trailers with children while others are carrying baskets full of food and other supplies.

It’s spring time, and with it, the season of cycling. And while biking is the best alternative to the car, like the car, German laws apply to bikers to ensure that both the cyclist and the others are safe.  In Germany, there are strict guidelines pertaining to bike safety that apply. Those violating the laws are subject to fines and penalties. In serious cases, one can get a point from the German Department of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg (Kraftfahrtbundesamt- KbA) and possible a ban from driving (or in this case, biking).

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To give you an idea of what to be aware of, here are some examples of guidelines to pay attention to:

  1. Thou must have proper lighting.  What is meant by that is that you must have a functioning head light and tail light- operated by a battery or a dynamo (which activates the lighting as you pedal your bike). In addition, you must have reflectors (nicknamed in German as cat’s eyes) on your bike pedals, spokes, tire rim as well as your head- and tail lights. Some of these are integrated in the lighting already. All new bikes have these components installed already.  However, for used bikes, they are a must.  Penalty for having improper lighting, including those that don’t work is 20 Euros per part. That means if you have absolutely no lighting or reflectors on your bike, you could face up to 80 Euros! In other words, light it up and make it work for your bike. 😉
  2. Thou must have functioning brakes.  Here, both the front and rear brakes must be present and in working condition. That is very obvious when you have to use them for unexpected circumstances. No brakes and you could break someone.  No brakes and it’s 20 Euros- sometimes per brake. So brake it in and have it ready for use.  🙂
  3. Thou must have a functioning bell or horn. Imagine you are biking and you encounter a person listening to music and not paying attention. Hollaring and screaming don’t help. But the bell does! The louder, the better and the safer both parties are. Without the bell, you could have 20 Euros sucked out of your wallet. That’s equivalent to 10 packages of Ricola cough drops, if you think about it. Save your voice and ring a bell, will ya? 😉

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While the Danes are really good about alerting their bikers to pay attention, as you can see in this picture, sometimes we just need to learn common sense when it comes to where and how you bike. We all know that showing off and even overloading your bike can give you some problems- both with the bike as well as with the law. For instance:

4. Biking on a sidewalk (Bürgersteig) is definitely NOT allowed, unless you can prove  that you are a child.

While some cyclists have tried imitating a seven-year old in   front of a police officer, they were greeted with a pair of high-fives in cash- equivalent to 10 European clams. 😉  If you nearly cause an accident, it’s 15 and if it  actually happens, it’s 25 plus a date with Judge Marilyn Milian from the People’s Court. And you can imagine how that would turn out, as you can see in the clip below:

So don’t do that.

5. Biking with no hands on the handlebar:

If you want to impress a girl, you might as  well impress Mr. T, whose reaction will come down to “Gimme Five, fool!” Do you want to give the man in a police uniform a high-five? If so, I guess you won’t be  having a date with that girl after all. 😉

6. Also not cool is biking through a traffic light when it is on red.

One has to remember,  when you have red, then cross traffic does NOT stop for you- not even the moose, like in the film below:

Here is where the lovely Danes at the KbA will get you. If caught alone, it’s 60 Euros            plus a point on your record. If you nearly cause an accident- meaning other drivers            have to slam on their brakes and swear at you (YOU SON OF A B****!) it’s 100 and a            point. Yet if you cause an accident, it’s 120 Euros, a point and you get to meet Judge            Marilyn Milian of the People’s Court- again. You can imagine what her reaction                  would look like:

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And lastly, for the rules of the road, you should have all eyes on the road. They are antennas- they detect everything right away- some of which can even save your life. Ears are good for listening to anything coming your way. That means without the two, you’re bound to go down like the rest of the fools trying to break the rules. For instance:

7. We’re in Germany and we are to the Right.

To the right is both a literal phrase and also a figurative. Just ask Kim Darby whose character Maddy Ross used it in True Grit in 1969. To the right means when traveling down a street with marked bike lanes, you go with traffic- meaning on the right. To attempt to pull a Mr. Bean and bike on the left will result in a sequel to Planes, Trains        and Automobiles (see the scene from the original below) plus 20 Euros to watch the sequel, produced by a police officer leacturing you about it,  when it  is done. 😉 Oh and by the way….. doing the same procedure while on a one- way street means an additional 15 to the 20 you owe them- 35 in total!

8. The No-Bike Zone.

Just as bad as biking the wrong way is biking in a pedestrian zone, or as I call it, The No Bike Zone. Guarded by the Klingons dressed in a police uniform, if you enter this zone, stop! Go back and find another way! Otherwise, you might want to learn a few words of Klingon, like the lady at the Volkshochschule in Vienna (Austria). You’ll need it to pay         them 20 Euros for the fine.

9. E-biking is not cool!

We’ve seen a lot of E-bikes on the trails; but we’ve seen the other version of E-bikes, meaning people listening to music on their iPhones or biking while talking or even texting. If you think you can multi- task, remember these German words: “Es geht nicht!”  If you bike and listen to music, it is 10 Euros, however, if you have your iPhone or Smartphone in your hand even, it is 55 Euros. Why? Because texting and biking can kill a friendship. Communication is key! Put the phone down!

10. Put the beer down!

While biking with a Radler (English is Shandy) is a common German culture associated with biking, too much shandy is not a good thing. Just like with drinking and driving, drinking and riding will cost you dearly. Pending on the severity and the number of related offenses, one will face at least 2 Flensburg Points, hundreds (or thousands) of Euros in fines, a ban from the road, a seminar on how to properly behave on the road,      and finally, a lecture of a   lifetime in court. And you can imagine how this                             would turn out:

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If you follow these ten commandments, you will be able to govern the bike trails properly and enjoy a tour around the lake or in the city, pending on how you bike and where you go. Biking is a priviledge that reaps rewards when you are out there. However, as there are many people around, the world does not evolve around you as the biker, but the others as well. So when you follow the rules of the road, the world will be yours and you will have the best time cycling on Germany’s bike trails, be it on the bike motorway, in the city, in the country side or wherever you may go this spring and summer.  So get out there and happy trails until we meet again. B-)

 

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The Use of Time Markers in English Part I: Past Simple vs Perfect Forms

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Time markers. They are like road signs- when you see one, you have to treat it accordingly. That means if you are on the road, approaching an intersection, and you come across this sign:

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By Roulex_45 (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons

That means you should give way (or yield) to cross traffic as it has the right of way. Other road sign examples can be used as an analogy to the topic that is rather mind-boggling in the English language. Time markers are used as indicators for determining which verb tenses should be used in a sentence. Aside the fact that all forms of time, such as a day or time, are included under the definition of time markers, other grammar forms considered to be used as time markers include certain words, like ago, when, already, ever and never. They also include most of the prepositional and adverbial phrases as well as words and phrases used for sequential order, like at first, secondly and finally.  For each verb tense there is a set of time markers that helps the language learner determine what form to use.

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Our first set of time markers looks at the difference between Past Simple and Perfect form. As a quick review, Past Simple refers to an event that occurred (or simply stated, started and ended) in the past. Example sentences include:

Wilhelm Bartlemann invented the Strandkorb in 1882. (Active)

The Strandkorb was invented by Wilhelm Bartlemann in 1882.  (Passive)

The verb is invent and as it’s a regular verb, an -ed is added.

Another example with an irregular verb can be seen here:

The origin of this invention was found in the Netherlands as well as in Hanseatic cities, like Bremen, Hamburg and Luebeck. (Passive)

The verb is find and its past form is found.  Have you got your irregular verb lists out yet? You better, because more examples will be found below. 🙂

The time markers for Past Simple focuses on an exact time the event takes place. This means anything that has to do with ago, last (…), during (a specific period), adverbial forms dealing with a sudden event, sequential orders and finally, prepositions of time (at, in, and on) belong to the group where time markers are used to describe what happened in the past. Here’s a complete list to keep in mind:

Time Markers for Past Simple:

ago, last (night, week, month, year, decade, century & millenium), yesterday, at, in, on, for, during, suddenly, (un-)expectedly, from (a) to (b), in the course of (…), when (used as a subordinate clause), sequential order (first, second, lastly, finally, etc.- also after), other adverbial phrases (surprisingly, quickly, slowly, etc.)

Activity 1:  Identify the time markers in the following sentences below:

  1. When Elfriede von Maltzahn asked Bartlemann  to provide a beach chair for her in 1882, he came up with the idea with the Strandkorb.
  2. In the course of only a year, the first Strandkörbe were presented for rent at the beach in Warnemünde.
  3. From 1882 until the turn of the century, Strandkörbe appeared in many towns along the Baltic Sea coast as well as in the Lakes Region of Mecklenburg-Pommerania.
  4. At the same time, Johann Falck and Franz Schaft opened their own Strandkorb factories in Rostock and Kroepelin, respectively. Falck invented the Halblieger in 1897.
  5. During the Interwar period, the number of Strandkörbe and factories increased by ten fold.

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Perfect form is not in reference to young German ladies in bikinis stroming along the Baltic Sea coast (;-) ), but consists of two types: present perfect and  past perfect. The present perfect form has two functions: 1. It serves as an event that started in the past and continues into the present, and 2. It describes an event that occurred suddenly and at an unknown time in the past.  Examples include:

  1. Four factories in Germany have produced Strandkörbe since the end of World War II.

Here, we have the verb produce, which in present perfect form, means that the four companies (Eggers, Schardt, Harder and Korbwerk) are still producing Strandkörbe despite having an average age of 60+ years in the business. Korbwerk consisted of two factories from the East German era which consolidated in 1992.

 2. Look, Mom! Danny has just rented us a Strandkorb! 🙂

Here, we have the verb rent and in this context, refers to Danny having provided a Strandkorb. Yet it is unknown when, using the time marker just makes it appear that he bought it just now.

In the past perfect tense, we describe the event that occurred prior to the event occurring in the past. Basically, it means  schema A that happened before schema B- all in the past. Example:

  1. Before Bartlemann’s invention of the modern Strandkorb, weaved basket chairs with covers had been popular among the royal families in several German duchies.

Here, we refer to the popularity of basket weave chairs prior to Bartlemann’s breakthrough of the Strandkorb in 1882, using the past participle form of to be and the adjective, popular.

Time markers for perfect form consists of mainly prepositional phrases, as well as never, ever, past and last. With the exception of prior to, until and during (which are mainly used for past perfect), the following time markers can be used for both forms (unless marked with a star, which means it’s usage is strictly for present perfect):

for, already, just, yet*, before*, recently*, in the past/last (….)*, at last, never, ever, since*, then*, finally, in the end*, now*, at the moment,* currently*, always, traditionally, occasionally, usually, now*.

Activity 2:  Identify the time marker in the following sentences below and determine whether they are present or past perfect form.

  1. Prior to the invention of the Strandkorb, Bartlemann’s wife, Elisabeth had commissioned a person to improve the quality of the weaved basket chair in 1880.
  2. The oldest existing Strandkorb factory, Korbwerk, has produced Strandkörbe since the days of Karl Martin Harder in the 1920s.
  3. The Strandkorb has already become one of the key signatures of vacationing along Germany’s sea coasts and lakes.
  4. Three East German Strandkorb factories had produced their own products for 35 years until the consolidation in 1992.
  5. Carl Eggers, who had contributed to producing Strandkörbe during the Cold War, has had his family furniture business since the 1770s. (!: Two pairs of answers)

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Activity 3:  Using the time markers and the verbs in brackets, complete the following sentences using the correct verb tense (past simple, present perfect or past perfect). As this is a story, the context must be kept in mind.

  1. Three years ago, Patrick and Sandy __________ (travel) to Travemünde for vacation.
  2. They _____________ never (see) Schleswig-Holstein before.
  3. Sandy, who is an English teacher having come from Louisiana (near Baton Rouge), ___________ (live) in Germany for seven years, but ___________ (visit) never the Baltic Sea prior to the trip.
  4. Patrick ____________ (work) as a marketing manager at a computer company in Mannheim for 10 years.
  5. Patrick’s father ___________(own) a Strandkorb rental business in Eckernförde from 1960 until his death in 2003.
  6. Neither of them ___________ (rent) a Strandkorb before but they _________(plan) to do so on this trip.
  7. Patrick and Sandy __________(meet) each other when he was 23 and she was 19.
  8. They ________ (to be) in Bavaria at that time.
  9. When they __________ (arrive) at the beach, they first __________ (pay) for a Matjes sandwich, Flensburger beer and French Fries each. Then, they ________(rent) a Strandkorb located towards the water.
  10. As they were walking with their food toward their Strandkorb, a flock of seagulls _________ (line) up along the edge of the roof of a hamburger stand and at the right moment, _________(attack) them!

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Activity 4: Finish the Story  With a partner, prepare the second half of the story and decide for yourselves what happens to Patrick and Sandy. How do they deal with the sea gulls? Will they make it to the Strandkorb? Will they enjoy their trip to Travemünde?  For each verb tense, you much supply three sentences along with time markers for each one. More is better. Personal experiences with Strandkorb and seagulls are more than welcome. Make your story geniune for others to listen to. Good luck! 🙂

ALTERNATIVE/ FURTHER PRACTICE: In case you don’t want to do Activity 4 above or if you wish to work more on past tenses, please click here for some extra exercises that will help you better understand the mechanics of the tenses and even go wilder on the story involving Patrick, Sandy and their encounter with the seagulls. Enjoy! 🙂

fast fact logo: With the exception of the story in activity 3, everything in this exercise dealing with time markers for past simple and perfect form are based on a true story of how the Strandkorb was invented and has evolved as a signature for vacationing on German beaches. For more information on the history, click on this picture below, which will take you to all the facts you need to know. While the site is in English, you can switch to German or Danish as you wish. By the way, there is no direct translation for this except for beach chair, but it is in reference to a different type of chair. Hence the adoption of this unique German word. 🙂

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Minus the Yield sign, all photos were taken by the author in August 2016, while on vacation in Fehmarn.

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Facts about Germany: Pfandsammler

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Ladies and Gentlemen, meine Damen und Herren: Introducing an all new video game, which you can download and play on your laptops and apps. It is a game which you can play with as many participants as possible. The object is to collect as many bottles as possible before getting caught by the police or security guards. The point values are based on the number of bottles collected as well as the size and value per bottle. Player with the most number of points wins the contest.

It’s better than any Pac-Man game you will ever see.

 

It’s Pfandsammler!  😀

 

The beauty of this game is you can play it anytime, anywhere! You can even watch the professionals do it- from students wanting to make an extra Buck by walking the grounds of the park, to a group of unemployed people working for a collection agency asking students for their empty bottles, to even the sportiest business person rummaging through garbage cans while running on the platforms of train stations. You can even adjust your settings based on the city of choice- from Hamburg to Lahr; Frankfurt to Ulm; Jena to Buxtehude. Each city has its own obstacles to overcome to get the best bottles without dealing with your enemies, which include police officers, security guards, janitors, paranoid citizens, or you can create your own custom-made enemy.

The game is free and you can get off any street in a German community. Just ask your nearest bottle collector where to get this unique game. Open to all ages! 🙂

 

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Bottle-collecting is something a non-native of German will not see on the streets of Germany. Even Americans would frown upon the logic of a person asking you for your bottle once you drink up the last drop of Club Mate cola (the one seen in the picture above). After all, they do take pride in having their bottles and aluminum cans recycled at the nearest recycling center or grocery store for the price of 5-15 cents per recycled item, pending on which state you redeem them. At some centers where cans are taken, a person could come away with an average of 25 cents a can, thus receiving a bundle of money when giving them 10 bags full of crushed cans! As a child growing up in Minnesota, my father and I would do just that, only to splurge what we received for the cans on ice cream cones, a can of Coke each and Polish sausages! Those were the days. 🙂

Yet as a German, or (in my case) as a long surviving American expatriate who can never get enough German culture, bottle collecting in Germany is considered the norm. While Germany does not have as many aluminum cans in mass amounts as in the United States, most of our beverages we see can be found in plastic or glass bottles. Yet while one can get away with a 25 cent can of Red Bull, when redeemed through the beverage collector machine at a grocery store, the prices of the bottles vary on material and brand. That means as far as glass bottles are concerned, a bottle of Flensburger beer is worth 15 cents, while a small bottle of Budweiser is eight cents its worth. For plastic bottles, they’re worth more. A 1.5 liter bottle of water is worth 25 cents when redeemed at the store. A one liter bottle of a local beverage: 15 cents. Yet when buying a six-pack of water, you can receive as much as one Euro fifty cents back when you bring them back to the store for a refund.

And this is why many people take advantage of bottle collecting, not just because of necessity, but because one can earn a lot of money through a day’s work of reaching into garbage bins, asking people for empty bottles, climbing over walls to get a crate of empty cans, or even grab some out of the woods. Wherever they may find the best of luck, they will take the risk and collect what they can. While some people don’t mind the collectors doing their jobs- many even talk to them and listen to their stories- others see them as a nuisance and have taken action to ban them from various facilities in many cities, such as Berlin and Hamburg, for example.  And while the majority of these bottle collectors consist of unemployed people living off social welfare, there are some who just do it not just for the hobby of it, but just to get the best buck out of a bag of bottles.

And therefore, my word of advice: if you see someone rummaging through looking for empty bottles or offer to take yours, you will see why. Denying them is fruitless for if one thinks logically, no matter who gets to keep the bottle, they eventually make it to their final destination: the beverage collector machine and eventually, the recycling center. And is it worth fighting over 25 cents when we have enough to go around, but the collectors don’t? Think about it…. 😉

Club Mate is a cola made with mate extract and has less sugar than most energy drinks. It has several different flavors and can be found in all stores and even at the cafeterias at German universities. Founded in 1924, it has a website, which you can click here.

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And yes, I challenge the next computer programmer to develop the game that is mentioned here. It makes an excellent competitor to Pac-Mac and Super Mario Brothers. So go ahead and let everyone know once the game is created and on the market. Go ahead now…. Just get it done! 😉

Americans in Germany 3: Going Glocal

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Ana Beatriz Ribeiro of the Leipzig Glocal enjoying a grand mug of German beer.

A few months ago, I happen to find another English-speaking online column that is following the German tradition of using the city and the slogan as the title. While the Flensburg Files has been in existence since October 2010, the Leipzig Glocal was launched in March of last year. Yet unlike the Files (which focuses on German-American topics in general), its primary focus is life and culture in the largest city in Saxony, providing people with many opportunities to engage in activities in one of the fastest growing cities in Germany.  I met its founder, Ana Beatriz Ribeiro, online while collaborating over some topics and sharing some information for use in each others’ columns and their facebook pages. Unique about her is the fact that despite having lived in the United States for many years, she originates from Brazil. On the eve of an international blogger conference, taking place in March of this year, I took an opportunity to interview her about her coming to Germany and how she has turned the Glocal into a regional powerhouse. Here are some facts about her, which are interesting and useful:

 

1. Could you provide a brief background as what your occupation is and how long you’ve been living in Germany so that I can include this in the background information?

I’m a journalist and Global Studies PhD student at the University of Leipzig. I moved to Leipzig in August 2012 for the PhD.

2. According to your online magazine Leipzig Glocal, your heritage is part Brazilian and part American. Can you elaborate further on how you/ your family came to the United States?

I was born in Brazil and lived there – in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – until I was 13 years old. At that point, my parents got a job at a TV station in Miami and we moved there, and eventually became American citizens. My parents ended up staying in South Florida, and I moved on to Virginia and North Carolina for newspaper jobs, and then came to Europe (Denmark, Poland and now Germany) to go back to university.

3. What got you interested in Germany?

The University of Leipzig’s Centre for Area Studies put out a call for PhD applications, and I felt the topic I was already working on for my Master’s – Brazil-Mozambique relations – might fit in well with what they were looking for, with some adjustments, and I was right because they accepted me. I’d been to Leipzig a couple of times before and was ok with the city (it was “like” at first sight but not “love”) and two of my close friends were moving here anyway, so I didn’t have to give the PhD position offer so much thought. Plus, some of my best friends in Europe had already turned out to be German; our sense of humor just seemed to match. It all just felt natural, and now I’m really glad I made the decision to move here.
4. How did you move to Germany and what kept you there?

Well, I moved here primarily for the PhD and still haven’t finished. Plus I fell in love with Leipzig and with a German guy, and started LeipGlo, so I have plenty of reasons to stay!

5. When was Leipzig Glocal launched and what was the motive behind this?

I started LeipGlo in March 2015, so we just turned one year old! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the idea then of LeipGlo becoming a magazine one day, but I surely didn’t think we would be moving this fast and that I’d find such wonderful support from the talented people who are part of our team of writers and editors. It all started out simply as my personal blog, but very open and appreciative of creative contributions from other people. I wanted to give an outlet for non-Germans and Germans to express themselves in English and also provide information in English to those who like to read in this language or don’t have access to this info otherwise. Info in English is still not so easy to come by in Leipzig, and I felt kinda detached from society when I moved here. We want to help make the transition into Leipzig life a little easier for people, and also get more bright international people interested in moving to our great little city!

6. What is so special about Leipzig? Name at least five things from your perspective?

1. Solidarity – There’s a real sense of community and sharing here, to a large extent.
2. Random experiences – I’ve had more of these here than anywhere else, and most of them have been positive and memorable.
3. House concerts – There are people organizing these all the time here and it’s one of my favorite activities, both attending and singing (along or as a performer).
4. Bikes – You can ride them everywhere because the city has a nice size and ok infrastructure for cycling.
5. Lots of green space.
6. Decent bars and restaurants I can walk to.
7. And most importantly, the people I’ve met here.

7. Apart from being the editor of the Leipzig Glocal, what is your other occupation?

I write, edit and do translations for other people.

8. How often do you visit your home country and what aspects there do you miss, if any?

I visit the U.S. (I consider it home) once a year. I miss my parents and brothers, of course, and having no language barrier, and also being able to find everything you need in one pharmacy plus amazing over-the-counter flu meds. I miss the real beach and being able to go to it most months of the year. Sometimes I miss driving but the feeling passes quickly when I remember I’d spend 50% of my waking hours doing that in Florida.

9. What are your future plans regarding career and Leipzig Glocal?

Fame and fortune. Haha. 😀

10. If you know someone who plans to move to Germany or any foreign country, what advice would you give them?

Be open to the unexpected and to learning from others. Learn to laugh at yourself. Respect and appreciate diversity. Don’t be too hard on yourself or the people you come to meet. Have a savings account. Have fun discovering the little things. I highly recommend doing this at least once in your life, because you’ll change for the better, in a lot of ways, and get to know yourself in ways that may have never crossed your mind.

 

Final thoughts: Be open to the unexpected and learn from others is something that many of us don’t understand but we embrace it anyway. Many of us have our lives planned in front of us, even as children, only to find that life can take some unexpected twists and turns, especially when it comes to living abroad. While I have never met anyone regretting this experience, despite some hardships and some unfortunate events, spending time abroad provides some challenges and tasks that are unexpected but doable. There is no such thing as a planned life when you know that by going straight all the time will result in being blindsided by the unexpected. So look around, take the chance and embrace the unexpected. In the end, the unexpected will be the most memorable.  🙂

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