Bitte NICHT Einsteigen!

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When traveling with the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), there are two extreme forms of communication to keep in mind, which annoy the customer the most: There is no information and there is the decision that is made and there is no compromise.  This is especially the case when you find a train arriving for you to board, with the info-board saying the train is leaving in a half hour to your destination, and you enter the train that is unlocked, ONLY to find that you are locked in and your train leaves the platform 20 minutes earlier, enroute to the railyard for repairs!!! You are surprised when the conductor enters the train and finds a trespasser frantically waiting to get out and return to the train station to catch your real connecting train, if it hadn’t left while he found a way to shuttle you back in the meantime.

People being trapped in miscommunication with the Bahn is nothing new to passengers, for announcements and information on the trains are sometimes very patchy, causing confusion and sometimes anger among the passengers dependent on train service as the alternative to driving the car. Whether there is neither information on the info-board nor announcements on the train and it arrives without notice, the lack of communication between the Bahn and the customers is an ongoing problem, and one that cannot be ignored, along with the increasing costs of traveling by train.

Some more examples of such headaches include a person boarding an ICE train upon arrival at Frankfurt without any information on whether or not to board, only to be locked up for 20 minutes while the cleaning crew takes out the garbage and cleans the seats before allowing people to board enroute to Dresden. Then there is a train that is supposed to leave the platform on time, only to be cancelled without notice because the loc driver went on strike. Or one that is my all time favorite: while riding the CityNightLine enroute to Geneva, 15 minutes before approaching Fulda so that the train can be separated between the one going to Basel and one going to Munich and Vienna, I was trapped in the latter train without notice, as train crews locked the door of the section going to Basel- and this while in the restroom next to a restaurant!

From my own personal experience traveling with the Bahn ever since coming to Germany, one can find the miscommunication very often with long-distance trains, in particular, the ICE, for despite its biggest strength of being the fastest and most efficient,  customer service is the poorest. This includes a lack of communication between train crew and customers in terms of providing available information on connections, being impatient with customers arriving from trains that are late, providing alternative train connections that are not realistic, and lastly, being too arrogant to provide information via announcements- both in German as well as in English. When an announcer on an ICE-train upon arriving says “Alle vorgesehene Zügen werden erreicht” (All connections will be reached) and sometimes in a broken dialect in English, the first natural reaction you will find in any situation falls along the lines of : “Häh????”

After having my experience of being locked in a train two times within one month, I decided to provide you with a few tips so that you can get the information you want and not be entangled in a web of misunderstanding.

  1. When a train is waiting to leave for your destination, don’t board right away but wait until 10 minutes before departure. Chances are if a train is on the platform and you have 30 minutes to wait, it will either head to the railyard or is locked with the cleaning crew on board. Better to drink a coffee or Glühwein at the train station and enjoy some company with strangers than to have an experience of a lifetime.
  2. While on the ICE, make sure you have access to a broschure to see when you will reach your destination and what connecting trains are available. They are both in German and English. Chances are likely that you have more than one possibility to catch your connecting train in case you missed the first one.
  3. Know your train and where you should be, especially when travelling overnight. While the CityNightLine is now defunct, other trains have taken its place, such as the EuroNight, EuroCity and NachtZug (Night Train) that have arrangements  similar to what was mentioned. That means if a train separates at a railyard station, like Fulda, Hamburg, Nuremberg, etc., please be sure to be in your own carriage 20 minutes before the procedure starts so that you are not locked in the wrong one and end up going in the wrong direction.
  4. While we’re talking about back-up plans, don’t bind yourself with one connection- one train. The German Railways do have Flexi-Tickets and other options, especially if you have a BahnCard. I personally have BahnCard 25 but they have 50 and 100. Pending on how often you travel by train, it is best to look at the best options which will help you financially and in terms of your sanity.
  5. Communicate with the train crew. If in doubt, ask. If you don’t like their service, make it known. The train crew is paid to do one important thing, which is to make the customer happy. They cannot afford to be arrogant, even though there are some explanations for their lack of logic. However they are sometimes very helpful, especially in situations where the customer needs some guidance in difficult situations.
  6. Lastly, be patient. All of us are human, and many of us make mistakes. Therefore, if you are in any of the situations like the ones mentioned here, relax. There is always a way out of any bad situation. I’m reminded of the song by the Wiseguys which describes the adventures of the German Railways quite well, and one doesn’t need to learn German or English just to see the descriptions and the facial reactions of the passengers (see this Genre of the Week Article here).

And if you want my word of advice: If you are ever in doubt whether or not you should board your train and you have more than enough time to spare, please, bitte NICHT einsteigen. Even if the sign says the train is leaving at your time, it is better to wait until right before the train’s planned departure than to board too early only to be locked in at the worst possible time. Especially if the crew wants to clean the train before it leaves, it is better to have a coffee and sandwich at a restaurant and give them a token of thanks for their service than to have some frowned looks in the end.  🙂

Author’s personal note: In reference to the CityNightLine train heading to Geneva, the one I now tout as the Jodie-Foster-Express thanks to the film Flightplan, I did manage to get back into the carriage going to Basel but not before waiting 20 minutes until one of the railway workers came and led me off the Munich coach back onto the Basel coach. With my wife accompanying me to Geneva, my first response to her question of what happened was: “Don’t ask!”  😉

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Genre of the Week: The Competitive Foursome

Salut Salon:  Photo taken by Stephan Brending. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014_BR_Sternstunden_Gala_-_Salut_Salon_by_2eight_8SC6403.jpg

Germany has its place in history as far as music is concerned. We have our share of componists and conductors of classic music, like Haydn, Bach and Beethoven. We have our rockers, like the Scorpions and Die Toten Hosen. We also have our accapella groups, like the ones we presented last week with The Wiseguys.

Then we have a quartet of ladies, armed with strings and a piano, whose main purpose is to show off, and make the audience laugh, like this piece to watch, entitled Competitive Foursome. Enjoy this work, people! 🙂

This piece was one of many produced by the likes of Angelika Bachmann, Iris Siegfried, Sonja Lena Schmid and Anna-Monika von Twardowski, also known as Salut Salon. Formed in 2002 in Hamburg, the name of the group originated from a combination of Edward Elgar’s work, “Salut d’amour” and their regular concert at a music-literary salon in Eppendorf, the suburb of Hamburg during the 1990s. At that time, the quartet featured Bachmann and Siegfried as well as Simone Bachmann and Ameli Winkler, as the original founders of the group.  Salut Salon’s taste of music is a combination of classical, jazz,pop and tango music with some acrobatic talents and some puppets in the mix. Apart from this feature song, they have produced several albums and individual pieces. Many of them can be seen via YouTube, which you can click here to subscribe.

This piece has it all: four ladies approaching the stage and competing to see who is the better one at the beginning: first the celloist and then the voilinist. The pianist follows and lastly the second voilinist. In the end, they make the best out of the classics, as you have seen in the video clip above. Seeing the clip for the first time, the first impression was it can only be done from Germany because of its high quality of music produced, with some showing off of their struts and strings. As you listen to the piece again, as well as other pieces from the group, you will find the group as an opportunity to drown into some music and indulge into some laughter and awes with their acrobatic acts.

While the group has received many accolades, this piece has been added to the Files’ Genre of the Week as a pure example of how music can be produced and spiced, impressing even those who have never heard of the group before, let alone listen to classic music as much as they should.  If one would like some more evidence, here is a 40+ minute concert/documemtary on their successes, with the ladies showing their flower power, musical style. Enjoy! 🙂

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Germany at 25: The ICE-Train

ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012
ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012

“Ding-Dong!  Gleis eins, Einfahrt ICE 737 nach Hamburg Hauptbahnhof über Neumünster. Abfahrt 13:25. Vorsicht bei der Einfahrt!”  Seconds later, a white worm with black and white stripes approaches the platform of Schleswig, south of Flensburg, where a half dozen passengers board the train heading to Hamburg and all places to the south of there. As the train departs the platform, it takes off at high speed, as it heads to its next station.

Speeds of up to 350 km/ph (218 mph), with comfort seats, a children’s compartment, a rather formal Bord Restaurant and lastly, enjoying the company of other passengers while checking the train schedule via broschure or even computer. At the same time, one can see the landscape fly by with a wink of an eye. These are the characteristics of the Inter City Express trains (short: ICE-trains), the flagship of the German Railways (The Bahn). Since the introduction of the Experimental in 1985 and the ICE-1 in 1991, the ICE-trains have become the most beloved for its service and quickness yet the most scrutinized by others for their delays and air conditioning units going awry (as you probably heard through the song by Wiseguys in the last entry).  But little do the readers realize is that the making of the fast train goes back many years, and it took efforts by many people and organizations to make it happen. In this 25th Anniversary of Germany special, we will look at why the ICE-Train has become an integral part of German culture since 1990 and why other countries are looking up to the Bahn and its trains for guidance in constructing their train lines and locs. Furthermore, we will look at the future of the ICE-Trains as the Bahn is entering its next chapter in its storied history.

The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source:
The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source: Marco Voss; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A410001MKF_Zug_1152.jpg

The First Train: The ICE Experimental

There is an analogy that best describes the development of the ICE-Train, comparing that with the one from the film “Chicken Run”: You cannot have the egg without the chicken- or was it the other way around? Click here to learn more. The same can be applied with the development of the first ICE Train: do you start with the train first or the rail line? The idea of the InterCity trains, which go as fast as 200 km/ph (124 mph) had been realized and put into service since the 1960s, providing services to cities with at least 25,000 inhabitants, yet the Bahn (which was known as the Reichsbahn at that time) was thinking bigger, bolder, and faster. And for a good reason: much of Germany has rugged hills and winding rivers, which made it difficult for trains to achieve speeds higher than 140 km/ph (87 mph). If one combines the amount of regional trains clogging up the rail lines, then it is a foregone conclusion that trains arrived at their destination- eventually!

Henceforth in the 1970s, the German Ministry of Transportation (which was based in Bonn at that time) started an initiative to construct the main artery lines, which would serve fast train services in the future. This included the lines from Mannheim to Hanover via Frankfurt and Fulda, Würzburg to Frankfurt, Hanover to Berlin, Mannheim to Stuttgart, Ingolstadt to Nuremberg and Frankfurt to Cologne. Authorities had envisioned trains travelling along these lines at 300+ km/ph (186 mph) with little or no delays. At the same time, the government (which still owns the Bahn today) contracted to companies like Siemens, to construct the first fast train that was supposed to travel these lines. The end result, after many attempts, was the introduction of the ICE Experimental in 1985. It featured two locomotive heads on each end plus 2-3 coaches. The purpose of the Experimental was to test the maximum speed of the train in hopes to further develop the train for passenger use. The Experimental broke several records, including one on 1 May 1988 at a speed of 406.9 km/ph and topping the French Rail Service’s TGV’s record twice in May 1990: 510.6 km/ph (317.2 mph) on the 9th and 515.3 km/ph (320 mph) on the 18th. All of this was along the completed stretch of the line between Mannheim and Hanover, Würzburg and Frankfurt and Mannheim to Stuttgart.  Although passenger use was restricted, the Experimental took the then Soviet President Michail Gorbachev to Dortmund in June 1989 to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, introducing him to the advancement in train technology.  Although the Reichsbahn set a speed limit of up to 300 km/ph for fast train services for safety reasons, developments involving the ICE continued, culminating in the introduction of the first of seven types that are still in use today.

ICE-1 Train. Source:
ICE-1 Train. Source: S. Terfloth; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE1_Schellenberg.jpg

ICE-1: 

After several successful test runs, contracts were let out between the Bahn and German companies, like AEG, Siemens, Thyssen-Henschel, Krupp, etc.) to design the first of seven ICE class trains that are still in use. This class is not only the oldest in service today, but also the longest, as it features (minus the two loc heads) at least 15 coaches- one of which is a Bord Restaurant that resembles a double-decker but in reality, it provides a skylight view while dining.  2-3 coaches are reserved for first class. A computer information system was also included in the trains to provide travellers with information on the train connections- this was later included in future ICE trains. Unlike the InterCity trains, where passengers had to use steps to get on board, the ICE-1 became the first class to make boarding much easier, especially for those who need special assistance. And lastly, the train was climate-controlled, which made travelling a convenience year round.

The ICE-1s made their debuts along the main artery route connecting Basel and Hamburg in 1991 with the first 41 trains being put into service. However, as the lines were expanded to include the Berlin-Hanover, Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich, Munich-Würzburg-Mannheim-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden, and the Frankfurt-Cologne-Rhein Region lines, plus the extensions to Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich and Berne, more ICE-1 trains were manufactured and put into use.

Ironically, the ICE-1 trains were introduced in the USA in 1993 to serve the coastal route- specifically, between Boston and Washington via New York City as well as as a demo route between Boston and Portland . Neither bore fruit because of the lack of interest in train travel and were later taken out of service. Yet despite the mentality that train service is for hauling freight, the thought of having high-speed train service has not escaped the minds of many Americans, especially because of environmental reasons, and many cities have been trying to copy the successes of Germany, albeit in snail’s pace.

Despite the successful debut of the ICE-1, the only caveat is because of its length, the maximum speed of this train was 280 km/ph (174 mph). On some of the stretches, the train’s pace around the curves were on par with that of the InterCity trains, which raised questions about the effectiveness of the trains and the need to shorten the trains when designing the next class of trains. This includes the introduction of the ICE-2 Train which made its debut shortly after the ICE-1’s introduction.

ICE-2 Train between Ingolstadt and Nuremberg Photo courtesy of Sebastian Terfloth via source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE2_Hilpodrom.jpg

ICE-2: 

Introduced in 1996, the ICE-2 featured a similar design to its forefather the ICE-1, but it had two most noteworthy exceptions. The first is that the trains were shorter in length- eight coaches and two loc-heads, which includes the Bord Restaurant and 1-2 first class coaches. The second is that the train was the first to feature a coupling which can attach to another ICE-2 train, thus making it longer. A demonstration on how this concept works can be found below:

The danger of this mechanism is the potential of the train to derail due to crosswind during storms and headwind from oncoming trains. The end result: a speed limit of 200 km/ph (124 mph) and its use on lesser-used lines that use ICE-1 trains seldomly. Therefore, one can find ICE-2 trains on lines connecting Berlin, Hanover and the Rhein-Ruhr region, as well as between Hamburg and Cologne (later extending to Kiel), Bremen and Hamburg (extending to Berlin), as well as between Frankfurt and Cologne via Coblence. They are also used as a substitute for the next class of trains to be discussed, the ICE-T, should it be deemed necessary. Despite the train’s shortcomings, they have gained popularity in other European countries as they were implemented and/or mimicked in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France, just to name a few.

ICE-T Train crossing a bridge at Grossheringen in Thuringia along the Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich Line. Photo taken in 2011

ICE-T: 

The next class of ICE-Trains to make its debut was the ICE-T. Not to be mistaken with the American rapper turned actor ICE-T, this train has one unique feature that makes it one of the most versatile of the ICE-trains: its tilting technology. A demonstration on how it works is below:

That, plus its ability to reach speeds of up to 250 km/ph and its coupling technology made it useful on rail-lines that normally use InterCity lines. Therefore when it was introduced in 1999, it was put into service along the line connecting Berlin and Munich via Leipzig, Jena, Bamberg and Nuremberg as well as the line between Frankfurt and Dresden via Fulda, Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig. They were later used on lines connecting Switzerland with Stuttgart and Munich, respectively, Frankfurt and Vienna, as well as between Berlin and Rostock and Hamburg, respectively (even though its terminus had been in Kiel at one time).  The trains have two different types: one featuring 10 coaches and one with 7 coaches. This include the end coaches as the motors of the trains are found in the bottom part of the train.  It was also the first to introduce the Bord Bistro, a sandwich/snackbar which normally would be found on InterCity trains, as well as a play area, which has been a focus of several critiques from parents, one of which was written by the Files in 2011.

The ICE-T became a forefront of another class of ICE-Train which became one’s loss and one’s gain, the ICE-TD.

ICE-TD:

As seen in the picture above, the train stopping at Schleswig is an example of a train class that is still being used despite its shortcomings, the diesel-version of the ICE-T. Introduced in 2001, the ICE-TD was similar to its sister but ran on diesel. It operated along the Vogtland route between Dresden and Nuremberg (extending to Munich) via Hof and Bayreuth as well as between Munich and Zurich. These lines were not electrified but the high number of passengers boarding along these routes justified the use of these trains. Yet technical problems combined with an increase in diesel taxes to be paid by the Bahn made its service shortlived. While the trains were decommissioned in 2004, they were recommissioned two years later to provide extra service for those going to the World Cup Soccer tournaments taking place in Germany. Subsequentially, all 20 train units were bought by the Danish Rail Services (DSB) a year later and have since been serving the northern half of Germany: one line between Berlin and Aarhus via Hamburg, Flensburg and Kolding and one between Berlin and Copenhagen via Hamburg, Lübeck, Fehmarn and Ringsted. A happy ending for a class of trains that was one the black sheep of the Bahn but has become the darlings for the Danes.

ICE 3 near Ingolstadt. Photo by Sebastian Terfloth Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE_3_Fahlenbach.jpg

ICE-3:

At the same time as the ICE-T, the ICE-3 made its debut for the Bahn. Featuring eight coaches including the end coaches, the trains up until most recently had been the fastest of the ICE-Trains in service, reaching maximum speeds of up to 330 km/ph (205 mph), making them suitable for the main artery tracks that do not require the twists and turns of the ICE-2 and ICE-T trains. Introduced for the World Expo in Hanover in 2000, the trains have since served the lines connecting Frankfurt-Basel, Frankfurt-Amsterdam via Cologne, Frankfurt-Brussels via Cologne and Frankfurt-Paris via Strassburg.

ICE 3V- the newest version of the ICE 3. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Innotrans_407.jpg

ICE-3V: 

The Velaro version of the ICE-3 train is the newest version of the ICE train, and perhaps one that will dominate the European continent if the Bahn has it their way. The concept was first conceived in 2009 and since 2014, the first trains have taken over some of the important lines, namely between Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. This may change in the next year as more of these trains, looking sleeker than the original ICE-3 but going just as fast as its predecessor, are set to take over some of the main artery lines, including the new line between Berlin and Nuremberg via Erfurt. In addition, with its successful test run through the Euro-Tunnel, the Bahn is looking at commissioning these trains to serve the line to London via Paris and/or Brussels. As the time to travel to Frankfurt from London takes six hours instead of 18-20 with normal trains, the use of these trains for this purpose, if successful, could take the Bahn to newer levels, causing other countries to look at Germany as an example of how passenger rail service can be developed. Sadly though, the introduction of the ICE-3V will come at the cost of two train classes: The ICE-1 and ICE-2, despite their recent renovations, will be decomissioned, bit by bit, beginning in 2020 and 2025, respectively. While the newer versions will change the image of the Bahn, many people will miss the older versions that have made rail travel faster but comfortable.

The ICx Train Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/ICX_Mock-UP_01.JPG

ICx:

Finally, the latest advancement in train technology that will take rail travel further beyond 2020 is the ICx. The concept has been worked on by several companies in the private sectors but the trains will feature both this version, a cross between the ICE-2 and the ICE-3 with 12 coaches, as well as a double-decker version. The designs have not yet been finalized, but two factors are certain: They will be slower than the ICE-trains with speeds, maxing out at 200 km/ph (124 mph), plus they will replace the existing InterCity trains that are over 35 years old and are meeting the end of their useful lives. Already planned is the commissioning of the lines in the eastern half of Germany beginning in 2020, the lines one which InterCity and former ICE trains once travelled will have these trains in use by 2030, including areas in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and parts of northern Germany.

Prognosis:

In the past 40 years, we have seen the advancement in passenger train technology in Germany and beyond, starting with the construction of new high-speed lines and the development of high speed trains, followed by the advancement of train technology to make trains faster but safer for use, the expansion and modernization of existing rail lines to attract more passengers, and the extension of rail services to as far away as the UK and Russia. The railroad landscape is currently undergoing a transformation where, with the introduction and commissioning of new trains, many lines are being designated for certain trains. While this may come at the dismay of residents of cities, like Wolfsburg, Jena, Weimar and other smaller communities, who will see their ICE train services be replaced with ICx, in the end, rail travel in Germany will still remain a lasting experience. This applies to those who never had never gotten the luxury to travel by train before because of the lack of availability, but have recently tried it and would do anything to use the train again on the next trip. A friend of mine from North Dakota had that experience during her last visit to Germany and has that on her list of things to do again on the next European trip. 🙂 But for those who think that train travel restricts the freedom to travel wherever they want to, here’s a little food for thought worth mulling as this long article comes to a close:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness- Mark Twain

If one wishes to try something new, as an alternative to traveling by car (or sometimes by plane), one has to open up to the options that are in front of us, and look at all the benefits involved. This is what makes Germany a special place. We have the bus, the boats,  the bike, and despite all the bickering, the Bahn. 😉

Genre of the Week: Thank you for travelling with the Deutsche Bahn

Delays, Cancellations and Strikes, as seen in this photo taken in May 2015
Delays, Cancellations and Strikes, as seen in this photo taken in May 2015

“Meine Damen und Herren, bitte beachten Sie: ICE 1209 nach Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Abfahrt 13:37 fällt heute aus.”

“Auf Grund von Streiks endet alle Züge in Buxtehude. Wir bitte um Verständnis.”

“Meine Damen und Herren, wegen der Klimaanlage sind Wagen 3 bis 5 im IC 2230 nicht verfügbar. Wir bitten um Entschuldigung.”

Cancellation of an ICE Train, trains ending in the middle of nowhere because of strikes, and three coaches are inhabitable because of a malfunctioning air conditioner. Factors which one would normally not find in Germany, especially with the Deutsche Bahn. Yet, they are the norm. And with each unexpected announcement comes more head shaking and many people looking for other forms of transportation because of announcement’s absurdity. Living in Germany for many years now and being an avid fan of train travel, one has to get used to the unexpected, despite the promises made by The Bahn to make services more convenient. But with each attempt comes another “Panne!”  Another strike, another broken down computer system in an ICE train, train detours because of people setting fires to cables along the tracks, and fights over how to utilize the children’s area on a regional train. One has to witness them all in order to appreciate what the Bahn has to offer. 🙂

There are many works written about the Bahn, some of which are poking fun at the way the train service has been treating their customers- one of which I will get to in a not so distant future 😉 – yet this genre of the week looks at the a capella version of the Bahn. Featuring Daniel (Dän) Dickopf, Edzard (Eddi) Hüneke, Marc(Sari) Sahr, Andrea Figallo, and Nils Olfert, the group Wiseguys is in its 21st year in business, and is known as one of the most popular vocal groups in post-Reunification Germany. Formed in Cologne in 1995, the group has released 16 single albums featuring many satire songs mainly in German, but also some in English. They have performed mainly in German-speaking countries but have made rare appearances in the US, Canada, Poland, Luxembourg and the UK. The song “Thank You for Traveling with Deutsche Bahn,” produced in 2012, is a pun in connection with the attempts to make announcements on the trains in English, only to be ashamed of the strong German dialect that comes out of their mouths. While some announcers have done a great job of trying to conceal that flaw, others I have heard were way too over-confident when speaking that they have been analogized with the Americans trying to learn French (Believe me, you don’t want to go there!)  In either case, if you choose to travel by train next time, whether you are a tourist or someone wanting to take a vacation, this is what you can get into while traveling with the Bahn (Enjoy! 🙂 )

But yet there are some things a person can be happy about, when traveling with the Bahn. One of which is in the next entry…..

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