Kwas Family 15 Day Power-Vacation in Europe 2008 German Version
While awaiting boarding at JFK, Nick takes out his violin and plays for two minutes...before security tells him to stop this apparently serious security violation, he nonetheless collects applause and $2.50 and so is able to pay for his own drink at dinner!
Departure and Travel to Europe: We are delayed in leaving JFK due to a "failed hydraulic pump" on engine No. 1, which needs replacement before we can depart...having some familiarity with these components I would say it’s infinitely better to find the failure on the ground during the pre-flight, rather than during take-off!... The pump is replaced in a couple of hours and we depart without further incident...Singapore Airlines is apologetic and gives everyone nice pen sets...they feed us well during the flight, naturally...
The flight and arrival are otherwise uneventful...Singapore’s level of service is fine as always...international airline food and service is worlds above that of domestic flights anyway...I try to catch some sleep during the abbreviated night, knowing that I need to be fit and alert for the two hour Autobahn trip to Kassel. We get into Frankfurt late-morning and pick up an Audi A4 Avant (wagon), diesel powered. We’ve rented this model before as it is able to cruise well, sips fuel very efficiently, and fits us three plus four suitcases and packs...the car is clean inside, but not washed outside, not full of fuel, and loaded with splattered bugs on the nose...I'm thinking one of the rental car boys who transfer the cars from the big lots off-site to Frankfurt Airport went on a long, fast joyride...I complain to the Avis office, get apologies and am assured I will get the wash and fuel refunded...the midday drive to Kassel on a Tuesday is not too bad in terms of traffic (it's always busy in the Frankfurt area), but we are going north, so are spared the heavy southbound August holiday traffic...for now...the Audi runs nicely, has gobs of torque from down low and cruises effortlessly at 160kph (85mph).
Kassel After two hours, just about my limit of the high level of attention required on the Autobahn after a short night, we arrive in Kassel/Baunatal, and check in at Wolfi's (he's already got a full house this year with the upcoming marriage of daughter Anna, and the French cousins haven’t even arrived yet!), so we head to the Pension Dingle (Bed and Breakfast), just down the way... The Pension is modestly priced and a nice older building which the recent new owner has completely refurbished and modernized...Herr Dingle gets a lot of business from guys working temporarily at the nearby Volkswagen facilities (transmission assembly and huge parts distribution warehouse complex). VW puts a lot back into the local community (like sport and leisure facilities) to keep their employees happy. The works have just had a 50 year anniversary celebration and colorful mini Beetle decorations can still be seen all over town. Four out of five cars on the streets of Baunatal are Vdub products...
Right next door to Pension Dingle lives an interesting gentleman I met last trip, who owns a Lotus Elise, a ’70 Volvo Amazon, a ‘60s Harley (every young German’s dream!), and several other exotic two wheelers. I visit with him and check out his stable of interesting vehicles, and tell him of anti-corrosive zinc paste for corrosion prevention in vintage vehicles...he is very interested in my information and experience on the subject...I expect he can make good use of the info!
We don’t have breakfast at the Pension, but at the Jakob house every morning...the dining room table is extended to it’s fullest to accommodate all the guests! No, Nick is not drinking beer for breakfast, but Malzbier (a sweet non-alcoholic malt drink). Nick checks out Fabienne's Smart.
Day in Eschwege: Whenever I’m in central Germany, I must make a pilgrimage to the place of my youth, to drink the local brew and visit familiar places. Wendy likes shopping in Kassel and Eschwege (and just about anywhere else for that matter). The dollar is weak against the Euro at the moment, sure, but uniqueness of the items which can only be found there also has its value! Nick and I like to eat Gehacktes, a delicious regional specialty of seasoned raw ground pork...eating raw pork would be unheard-of in many places, including the United States, but the feared trichinosis is a non-issue in Germany...pigs are individually veterinarily inspected and must be approved before being allowed to be butchered for consumption! Gehacktes is one of the first and one of the last things Nick and I seek out and enjoy on visits to northern Germany.
Gehacktes on fresh bread...Yummy!
The French contingent arrives. I get along splendidly with Patrick and Joelle, although our language sets overlap only slightly...Wolfi on the other hand has more practice in French...so when I catch myself speaking English with a French accent like Inspector Clouseau and hoping to be understood, I call upon him to translate... They’ve brought ripened cheese and vin rouge from their local area in the south of France (we’ve brought jugs of authentic New England maple syrup, made in Hebron, Connecticut, on repeat request). The wedding and weekend will truly be an international affaire!
Anna’s wedding: For a true "separation of church and state", in Germany, weddings are two-part. The first official and legal part takes place with just with the close family (and in this case, international guests) attending...at the brand new town hall of Elgarshausen, and is performed by the Justice of the Peace. Afterwards, there is a short champagne celebration in the courtyard of the town hall...brooms and dustpans are provided for cleaning up rice and confetti. New brides and grooms clean up together symbolically.
The separate religious, ceremony is then performed the next day at a charming small 200 year old stone church overlooking Kirchbauna, with everyone present...after that, we all follow the new couple through the village and adjourn to the events hall attached to the volunteer fire department…here, they have a lot of experience extinguishing...mostly thirst!
Food and decorations were all beautifully prepared by Geli, family and friends in close support of this special event. It is a touching and exquisite affair for the some 80 attendees. During the buffet style dinner of delicious entrées, very personal presentations are given by family members. Nick gives his first violin performance on the continent this year to an enthusiastic audience. Later, a DJ keeps the house rocking with dance music and some crazy character performances...the celebrations last until well into the night... Although many still smoke cigarettes here, their numbers are finally decreasing, and they must go outside the front door to puff away...we don’t mind this much, as our clothes won’t reek tomorrow.
The bride and groom dance, wearing 3lb ryebread
(...its not some sort of tradition, just another whacky wedding reception idea the town baker came up with!)
Trip south and Salzburg: We leave Kassel/Baunatal and allow the Jakob household to get back to normal from the exciting weekend. Traveling on a Monday, again spares us the worst of holiday season traffic. There are pockets of heavy traffic on the Autobahn, but we get to Salzburg in good time. Driving on the Autobahn is a delight...in open areas where there is no speed limit and traffic allows, one can motor along perfectly safely on the Autobahn at a very fast clip (there are other vehicles going even faster than us!)...this only works here in Germany where driving is serious business...roads are built to be beautifully smooth, and carefully maintained to stay that way, rules of the road are strict, and strictly adhered to, driver training is quite serious and expensive, non-approved vehicle modifications are strictly Verboten(!) and vehicles are thoroughly safety inspected every two years.
Michael Schuh, the Austrian buttonbox musician who I’ve been accompamying with when he’s stateside, meets us at the Salzburg town limits...we follow him to reasonably priced accommodations he has found for us at the Hotel Schwaighofwirt outside of the busy downtown (which is even busier and more expensive during primetime of the Salzburger Festspiele events every August). Hotel Schwaighof is located on the plateau next to the Untersberg overlooking Salzburg, and is also a refreshment-stop for the many and busy mountain bike paths which crisscross the area.
Michael lives about a mile away from the hotel on a hillside overlooking the valley in which the Salzburgring racetrack and events venue is located. It’s a beautiful location but can get noisy with whatever noise events generate...that's why residents of Plainfeld all get free entrance into any event at the 'Ring.
We have dinner at the Augustiner Klosterbräu (monastery) Biergarten back in downtown Salzburg...its quite busy in the shade of the chestnut trees. You pay for your bier at the cashier, and receive a coupon. You then grab a clean stein (in the appropriate half or full liter size) from a rack, rinse it with cold fresh water provided at a massive stone fountain, then present it and your coupon to the monk who fills it from a real wooden bier barrel with their delicious, absolutely fresh, brew...it’s a great system which works pretty much as they have done it here for the last 200 years I expect! Food specialties from Schweinshaxn (pig’s knuckle) to Kabob to cheese to pretzels to dessert pastries are all available at (maybe the original) food court upstairs. We meet Michael’s son and wife, and Nick has the first Schweinshaxn he has been looking forward to, of course...actually, we share two! Other tourists ask to take pictures with Michael as he is dressed in Tracht (traditional lederhosen costume).
Excursion with Michael: We take the Schafbergzahnradbahn (cog railway) up the Schafberg (1783m) high above the Wolfgangsee with expert tour guide and outdoorsman Michael...it is a glorious summer day in the mountains, and one can see why the Salzburger Land, with its many lakes and mountains, is a favorite holiday area. The majestic, snowcapped Dachstein (2995m) with its glaciers is visible maybe another 20km further southeast.
Nick enjoying a Germknödel (sweet dumpling filled with plum jam)...yum!
View from the top of Schafberg showing top station of cog railway and valley below with St. Wolfgangsee.
At St. Wolfgangsee with Schafberg in the background.
The Dachstein is socked-in the next day, so we don't visit it to play on the ice of the glacier as we had planned, but instead visit the downtown Salzburg again, quite busy with international tourists by day, all coming to take one of the “Sound of Music” tours or see the Festung (fortress) on the Mönchberg and modest birthplace and home of Wolfgang Mozart in the Getreidegasse...where I believe he composed “Die Zauberflöte” (Magic Flute). Taking a fiaker (horse-drawn carriage) ride around town is a tourist favorite.
In the afternoon, Nick shows remarkable courage and violin playing ability in the shadow of Mozart's statue in the Mozart Platz and plays works of the master for the crowds of tourists. He is rewarded with applause, and generous tips in Euros and even some exotic Korean currency. We have coffee and Weissbier on the terrace of the Kafe Dremer overlooking the Platz.
Farewell Dinner: from Michael’s backyard, one can see campers starting to fill the hill above the ‘Ring for the coming weekend’s “freQuency” rock music fest...you can indeed hear the bass of their music systems in the distance, and that’s not even the concert music system yet. A news helicopter circles the track at an altitude not much higher than where we are at Michael’s house. Michael has prepared a fabulous roast pork and dumpling dinner, and we dine in the back yard of his small house (actually half of a duplex) styled in the classic Bavarian landhaus architecture (stucco first floor, carved dark wood-clad upper floor and decorations, broad roof with big overhangs to prevent roof avalanches). Michael is not only a good musician and gracious host, but also a well connected retired builder who used to employ Dietrich Mateschitz (who went on to found the Red Bull empire, and whose wealth can now be counted using scientific notation), he personally knows Niki Lauda (who our Nick is named after!), can probably get him an audition at the Mozarteum music school with his connections, and clearly is also an avid hunter and super chef, who knows how to prepare exotic game as well as a simple pork roast...what a personality!
Michael picks fresh chives for the salad while preparing dinner and Nick picks fresh strawberries after dinner from the slope right next to the small swimming pool in the back yard overlooking the valley...a postcard view! Michael’s kitty helps... The musicians play a few songs after dinner...neighbors applaud from behind the hedges of wine grapes.
We say goodbye to Michael and depart the Salzburg area for Königssee. Because we want to avoid busy Salzburg city traffic, we drive the scenic route by way of Wiestalstausee and Hallein. It's a really nice hour drive and we get to Schönau at the north end of the Königssee. It's another beautiful day in the mountains, and after shopping and having a bite at the Seestrasse, we pack up for the planned overnight at the Gotzenalm (1685m). We take the Jennerbahn (two-man gondolas) to the mid-station (1200m), and head south toward the Gotzenalm. Signage for hikers is very good, so I don't purchase a map. Freddie has advised us that it is an "easy, two and a half to three hour walk" to the Alm and hut., from his experience here last Summer. At a split in the path (both ways go to the Gotzenalm), I elect not to take the lower road and "loose altitude" but take road which continues up (we are still well below the plateau the Alm is on). The road eventually necks down to a walking path and at one point must snake around the steep side of a bowl. In parts of the steep bowl the trail is difficult with wooden steps which have been provided and fixed hand cables for holding on...I first see this bowl from a distance, know we must pass this area and expect that it will surely be tough going for Wendy...I wonder what Freddie considers an "easy walk"!
After three hours of strenuous hiking, Wendy is indeed taxed and not very happy with me (or Freddie)...she leads the difficult way and goes on ahead not wanting to be talked to...(bitchin' Freddie and me out at every tough step I'm sure). No Pictures are available of her from this time period (I didn’t feel like having to surgically remove the camera from my own skull on the trail with a pocket knife). Nick and I make a short stop for a snack and let her go on ahead.
We rejoin her where the difficult path rejoins the road. She is resting and in better spirits. Apparently Freddie had stayed on the low road where we had continued on the “high road”. The low road certainly got extremely steep too, but it did not have even more difficult steps or treacherous drops...I still prefer this "alpine route" to the road...it's just not as satisfying of a hike when the occasional car or mountainbiker goes by...I don't envy them on the way up, but they do make excellent time on the way down - IF you can keep your brakes working and don't lose it over a cliff on the turn-arounds, and can keep clear of the free roaming cows, who have the right of way!
We continue another hour up the extremely steep road...at about 20% grade, it's very tough going, but it’s late in the afternoon and we do get some relief from shade we would not have had earlier in the day...good thing, we are running low on water and Wendy is about ripping mad at this point, probably compiling a mental shopping list for how she plans to do serious damage to our Visa...and maybe Freddies too, in retribution!
After four-plus hours, at 18:00 we finally make the last turn onto the plateau on which the Gotzenalm is located. It's an idyllic green alpine meadow bowl just about at tree-line, with the gentle sounds of the bells of free roaming cows...one must step carefully around here!, framed by vertical rockfaces, those to the east are of the imposing Watzmann on the other side of the Königsee! We head slightly downhill for the first time in hours, the last hundred yards, to the Alm "complex" of about six buildings, loosely surrounding the central Gotzenalm hut. We have a well deserved rest without packs on our back, rehydrate under the afternoon shade of big Franciskaner umbrellas at the hut, and dry out our sweat-soaked clothes...we are scheduled to stay here tonight. There is a guitarist playing English speaking songs...he sounds American, not British...I say hi, but don't talk to him much...other, German speaking hut visitors, including several couples with loud, unruly little kids applaud his playing. Somehow, I'm just not impressed hearing "Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap" played at this alpine hut...I would have preferred a buttonbox player playing some German Volksmusik...I’ll get over it... In general, though, friendlyness and courtesy prevail on a Hochalm...maybe it's because one has a certain kinship with all the other people who have similarly slugged their way up the trail.
Bier tastes even better after a 4 hour strenuous hike!
Nick and I make the short walk to the outlook point where over the 3000ft cliff (no exaggeration), you can see just about right down onto the much photographed chapel St. Bartholomä on the other side of Königsee...impressive and beautiful...Wendy stays back at the Alm and relaxes, happy that she has made it to our day’s destination...
View down to St. Bartholomä, little Chapel reachable only by boat.
Wendy in good spirits again.
A limited offering of two hearty hot dinner options is available at the hut between 19:00 and 19:30. We share fresh salads, and a single delicious goulash and dumpling dinner under the outside umbrellas (we're still recovering from the strenuous ascent, and not so hungry yet!). The pace up here on the Alm is slow and peaceful (except for the unruly kids...even the hutkeeper is not happy with them...). We are not staying in the community mattress area in the loft of the new building right behind the original hut, Wendy vetoed that immediately, but in one of the half dozen or so slightly more private yet still spartan four-(bunk) bedrooms. For bedding, you only need to bring your own sheet and so carry the absolute minimum pack-load...experienced hut tourers typically sew these into a sleeping bag shape.
After dinner, then sunset, it gets cool quickly outside, so everybody moves inside to the community room, talks, plays cards, or drinks a final refreshment in the evening before lights out time of 21:00, at which time the generator gets turned OFF. For midnight potty trips (to the flushing toilets), a flashlight is required! For freshening up in the morning, there is a men’s community "washroom" consisting of a 6 foot long sink along the wall with multiple cold spigots. I understand the women’s washroom is similarly appointed. The water is double filtered and UV radiated so is absolutely safe to drink and to fill a water-bottle with, but a hot shower will have to wait. Things are intentionally purposeful and simple on a Hochalm (high alpine meadow)...and this certainly doesn’t seem to keep people away...maybe it is even what draws them...alpine hiking is a favorite activity for both young and old in Europe...and one of the reasons you hike up here is to experience the simple beauty of the mountains...you can have the pool, sauna, and gelato and espresso bar at the hotel in the valley...up here, you get alpine meadow peace and tranquility, fresh mountain air and the satisfaction of having had some good exercise, hearty hot meals, cool and hot refreshments and maybe even fresh butter milk and cheese from the happy cows.
It gets cool and fog/clouds moves in, socking the bowl in solid, not long after sunset. We are, after all, at the altitude of the peak of Mount Washington! The Almhüter (caretaker) says tomorrow will not be nice...I spend the night in a light sleep only, listening for precipitation on the roof and fearing what we are not well prepared for: A slippery descent in cold, mountain rain.
New building for overnight accomodations built in an above-ground bombshelter style,
to be able to survive apline weather and winters. In time, the wood will weather and get gray.
Luxury accomodations on a Hochalm!
The gentle, natural smells of freshly cut pine still permiate the two year old hut.
Morning in the mountains: The rain has held off...for now, and the cold water in the washroom really does freshen one up! We have a simple hearty breakfast of coffee and bread with marmalade or cheese and sliced cold-cuts before starting out in total fog/clouds. A descent to the south end of the lake by way of the 800 wooden and stone step route (direct and ultra-steep, right across the contour lines - I bought a map, wanting not to get caught out again!), and which I originally planned on, is completely out of the question with the impending rain which would have made everything absolutely treacherous in addition to just extremely steep. We elect to take the (merely steep only) road route back to Kessel at the midpoint of the lake, where we can also catch a boatride back to Seestrasse. The trip down the road, then walking path with switchbacks, makes rigorous use of a whole new set of muscles...we are pretty beat and quite happy to see the lakeshore boathouse at Kessel getting closer and closer through clearings in the trees after two and a half hours. The rain continues to hold off until we were just a hundred yards away from the boat dock with protective hut...that was mighty lucky!...results of rain during the descent would have surely broken the credit card! After only a short wait, we are happy to see the (covered) boat which will bring us back to Seestrasse.
The ride to Mittenwald was by way of an unusual route through some spectacular valleys thanks to the "most direct" setting on the GPS being enabled opposed to the "fastest route". Once in Mittenwald, we decide to stay at the (four star) Post Hotel in Mittenwald (originally a Thurn- und Taxis Poststation), taking a mini-suite...with Nick having his own room with balcony toward the south (looking down the valley toward Scharnitz, Austria), and us having an balcony looking east past a geranium filled windowbox, at the majestic Karwendel Massif...it costs a bit more, but is worth it with the included pool and sauna facilities to help remove the lactic acid from muscles we didn't know we had (seriously used and abused). Appointment of the rooms is a far cry from that of the Gotzenalm (read: TV, Minibar, and beds with cozy Microfiber sheets and Mozartkugeln treats on the pillows nightly).
View of the south side of the Post Hotel with the glowing Karwendel Massif to the east at sunset.
Nick draws a crowd as continues his profitable sessions as a "street-musician", playing in the heavily betouristed pedestrian zone, then uses part of the loot to buy Legos and “Spaghetti” ice cream. Wendy starts doing only minor damage to the credit card...looking back, maybe she did have an OK time hiking...in any case, we nonetheless all have rubber legs and walk really funny, walking down steps (or even just stepping off a curb!), for a couple of days...good pain! For dinner, we have Pfifferlinge (forest mushrooms) in cream sauce over dumplings, an exquisite and delicious summer specialty.
Pfifferlinge (forest mushrooms) in cream sauce over dumplings...yum!
I enjoy listening to the Packl of musicians (bottonbox and guitar) also playing outside a restaurant in the pedestrian zone just down the way from where Nick is playing. These guys are playing traditional Volksmusik...and very well...I suggest to the buttonbox player he come and play in the US, at the Gaufest...he’d be among friends and a huge enthusiastic audience. The pedestrian zone in Mittenwald right next to where they are playing has a two foot deep storm drainage ditch running right down the middle of it... I’ve never seen it dry... there are little bridges over it in front of some establishments...you can also step over it, no problem, but one must step carefully around here too!
Sunday in Partenkirchen: At Anton Sprenger's suggestion, we travel to Partenkirchen to see a spectacular Jugendtrachtenparade (traditional costumed parade of young people, lead by the adult musicians of their village)...of about 25 local villages. We have a traditional breakfast (Frühshoppen) of veal sausage with sweet Bavarian mustard, freshly baked pretzels and Weissbier at the outdoor tables of a Gasthaus right on the parade route.
They are really prepared for serious partying at this Gasthaus...the men’s room is actually equipped with a “vomiting fixture” with “Jesus handles” and a flushing button! I demonstrate the proper position for use, but don’t really need to make use of it today.
At the festival tent after the parade, there had to be two thousand young Trachtler dancing and having fun. There were more lederhosen-wearing Buam, and beautiful dirndls in braids than you could shake a Schweinshaxn at!
Each village has a different braid style and Dirndl dress for its young ladies.
Local boys impress the local girls with marksmanship and feats of strength (just wait how much stronger you will think you are when you get to drink Bier at 16!).
The alpine architecture and decoration of the houses with window boxes in full bloom are everywhere. but they also embrace modern and ecofriendly technologies (note solar array on roof!). Even the bird houses are constructed in this classic style... Not far behind the houses, granite massifs rise to 8000ft.
Its the holiday Mariahimmelfarht in very Katholic Bavaria, so people dress in tracht!
We enjoy the entertainment of a local duo "Mia Zwoa" at the Biergarten of the Hotel Stern.
Bluegrass Jam in Mittenwald! One of the specific things that Nick said he wanted to do while in Germany...after eating Gehacktes and Schwein'shaxn and drinking Malzbier (a sweet non-alcoholic malt drink), was to be able to jam in Mittenwald with Anton Sprenger and the Grieshoppers again, so another bluegrass jam-session was arranged at the Altmittenwalder Wirtshaus...this was once again big fun for all musicians, patrons and the proprietor alike, who was only too happy to spend for our food and drink, for having once again entertained the whole place with no less (and more unusual music for this Bavarian mountain village) than American bluegrass...for hours. The next day, other tourists recognize Nick and I in the pedestrian zone, as the bluegrass musicians from the night before, compliment us more on the entertainment and buy us more refreshments!
While in one of the violin making capitals of Europe, Nick supports the Mittenwald economy, and buys a new violin bow at Anton Sprenger’s. I visit next door and get some technical guitar repair tips from Cousin Leo.
We had originally wanted to get together with uncle Dieter again in the Stubai for a couple of days of serious hiking, but this short trip did not allow for this...besides, that would have been a bit strenuous in light of the sore legs we still had from the Königssee excursion...instead, we get together just south of Mittenwald, in Seefeld, where we had a truly leisurely and easy walk to the Wildmoosalm (at a mere 1300m) for lunch.
Bye bye Mittenwald, hello Frankfurt! The next day we leave Mittenwald for a preregistered room in Kelsterbach near Frankfurt, so we don’t have to drive through the night for an 08:30 return departure. We once again hit maximum velocity for this trip (for us) on the Autobahn going north to Munich, but there is heavy traffic between Stuttgart and Frankfurt.
At Frankfurt airport, I park without procuring a parking tag, and get a ticket...the nice gentleman says it’s only 5Eu, but when I tell him that it is a rental car, and that I may speak Germany fine, but not fine enough to lie well using it, and that I honestly wasn’t aware of where the parking tag machine was (truth!). He tells me that as a rental, it would have been 55Eu (!) and in their fabulous efficiency, they do track the responsible party down through the rental agency...but he kindly gives me a courtesy break and cancels the ticket...what a nice gesture! The return flight is otherwise calm and the in-flight movie: “Iron Man” is entertaining. Singapore Airline feeds us well as always.
Add-on: On the ride home from JFK to Hartford, needing a rest and lunch (er) dinner break (depending on your timezone), we make halt at the Old Heidelberg Restaurant in Bethel CT. Dunja is most happy to see us, but advises that the kitchen is closed until some plumbing repairs can be signed off by the health department; but that she can still offer us refreshment in her Biergarten...she is also delighted that we have just returned from Europe, and have chosen her restaurant for a break... We start chatting about our vacation and she tells us that she has also just returned from Germany and Austria, having been in Salzburg just a week before...another patron pulls in, Nick takes out his Violin, and chef Uwe in the kitchen manages to rustle us up a family platter of three of his fantastic Schweinshaxn (the ones I've been telling people even in Germany about!)...you know how it goes...the lunch break turns into a two hour stop...with a request to have Nick play for the Restaurant sometime...we will certainly set this up for the wonderful meal Dunja arranged for us and refused payment for! That brings Nick up to about five or six Schweinshaxn in two weeks, but he is none the worse for wear with the metabolism of a teenager.
Chef Uwe works his culinary magic in the kitchen of Dunja's Old Heidelberg Restaurant.
Wendy drives home the rest of the way, because of my level of refreshment...
Now that's what I call a Power-Vacation!
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