Thursday, 23 December 2010

Wrapping it up

So off to Finland we go! There's no "Schneekaos" – it's raining and it's +2°C – so we should have no problems with our flight.

I bought the last Christmas present yesterday, got a haircut, stopped by the office for a few hours and started to wrap presents. There are still a few to be wrapped, and I need to go buy a few bottles of organic red wine to bring home for the Christmas table. And then: Christmas peace!

Bis zum nächsten Jahr und guten Rutsch!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

"Happy Christmas, see you next year!"

The spirit of Christmas is stress, yes? To get evereything done at work, to find presents, over how much money it all costs – and for us expats; stress over managing to see everyone one more time before we all fly off to our respective home countrys.

I can tick all those boxes: I finished work yesterday, but had been working pretty much 24/7 before then. I still have to buy a present for my best friend, we just emptied our bank accounts at TK Maxx and we've been meeting up with friends for "happy christmas, see you next year"-dinners every few days. At least we have gotten some excellent meals out of it :)



On Wednesday last week we met M and N at Spaghetti Western on Torstraße (it's a lot nicer than the website looks!). Just a few weeks ago they revealed that they are having a baby, so this was also kind of an celebratory meal. I must confess that all I could think was: "it was nice knowing you, see you again in three years". But the restaurant was excellent! Everything cost about an euro or two more than I thought it should, but: when in Mitte... I ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil (€5,50) – a simple dish it was everything you could hope for. I'm already craving another visit! For dessert (all €3,90) we wanted panna cotta, but it was out, so we chose cremè brulées instead. They were tiny and the sugar crust was really thick and tasted burned, so the meal didn't have the great ending it deserved.


On Saturday we had a Prenzlauer Berg breakfast in German with S, D and S. Schwarze Pumpe is an old favourite, but we have only tried their Sunday brunch before. On a Sunday you need a reservation, but this Saturday at 11 o'clock the place was empty. We enjoyed our veggie plates, several milchcafés and some Heiße Zitrone. Afterwards we visited the Trendmafia Christmas market on Brunnenstraße. Before I had to run off to work we managed to pick out a cool t-shirt for my brother. This market is definitively worth a visit, it's on every first weekend of the month outside of the holiday season, too.


Today we emptied our wallets at TK Maxx Neukölln, found pressies for my dad (he wished for a plain black t-shirt), for A's dad and loads of other tricky people. And I got winter shoes, finally (two pairs, I don't know if I will have to be reasonable and return one pair...). Then we met M, M and little J for gift exchanges and Thai food in Mitte. Thai Inside seems like a place that I'd be suspicious of: too chic, too polished, too close to Alexanderplatz and higher-than-average prices. It turns out it's quite the popular spot; I think we were the only English speakers in the room! Our dishes were all good and beautifully plated and the service was terribly friendly – so 27 euro for a starter, a soup, a main dish and two drinks isn't that terrible, is it?

Now I only need to buy two more presents, wrap them all, buy wine to bring home, get a hair-cut and then it's Christmas bliss!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

No shopping, just brunching

Brunch buffet at Morgenrot, Prenzlauer Berg
 
On Thursday A's friends from Finland were going to fly to Berlin to see Suicide Commando at K-17. Their flight was cancelled, because the Berlin airports ran out of de-icing fluid – unbelievable! It's winter every year, you wouldn't think it would cause such chaos. The boys flew in on Friday instead, and got tickets for Monster Magnet at Postbahnhof. I had a "girls night in German" with S and S, and at 2am we decided to meet up with the guys for a beer at legendary Paules Metal Eck on Simon-Dach-Strasse. I was home at 5am, and needed to be at a photo shoot on Saturday at 11.30.

After the very successful photo shoot some colleagues and I decided to go to Morgenrot on Kastanienallee for breakfast – I still hadn't eaten anything and was feeling pretty weak. Plus I haven't been there in ages and I looooove their vegan/vegetarian brunch! A and I still made a half-assed attempt at Christmas shopping, but were too tired and too uninterested for it to go well. At least I got to visit the new English books store at Kulturkaufhaus Dussmann – thank god I was too tired to shop, even for myself :)

Today we talked the Finnish boys into trying our favourite brunch at Datcha with us. We all agreed, once again, that it really is worth to pay €9.80 per person for. I don't think I'll have to eat all day now! The guys wanted to still make an effort as tourists, so instead of coming to our flat for a nap, they went to the Erotikmuseum in Charlottenburg. I opted to go visit our Kiezweihnacht Christmas market at the Samariterstrasse church. It wasn't very big or special, but I did manage to buy a great Christmas present there... But it's for the secret santa present at next weeks Christmas get-together, so I won't reveal it, at least yet!

Kiezweihnachtmarkt, Friedrichshain

The office Christmas party

This week I have mostly been eating out and curing hangovers. I have not done any significant Christmas shopping and have not been resting for the long work week ahead... Sigh.

Our company Christmas party was on Tuesday. We ate a three course meal at Gugelhof, a pretty fancy restaurant on Kollwitzplatz, and then we took the party to White Trash, and when they closed, to Kaffee Burger. I was home at 8 o'clock in the morning – and it wasn't even an extraordinary fun night... There was some drama though: unrequited love, juicy gossip, over-sharing and some boy-on-boy / girl-on-girl kissing. None by me, thank god! Still I was too hung over to go to work the next day :P

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas, shopping, Berlin

My mother is in Berlin again for the weekend, and I've kept her busy. We have ignored the snowy sidewalks and been shopping and eating well, mostly.

We started off on Friday by designing my mom a custom made perfume at Frau Tonis Parfum in Mitte, a scent of roses and lily of the valley (€65 for 50ml, €22 for 15ml). Then we dropped in to my fave clothing shop, Cyroline, on Alte Schönhauser Straße (they also have shops in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain). I always find cool and comfy clothes there and this time both mom and I bought tops. This all accidentally happened on our way to check out a friends' exhibition at the very interesting Haus Schwartzenberg on Hackescher Markt.

On Saturday we had a date with S to go check out TK Maxx in Charlottenburg together – I had heard that the shop there was a lot bigger and a lot better then the one in Neukölln. Other people had clearly heard that too: it was super crowded! We did manage to find some Christmas presents and I bought a hoodie. S had a very successful shopping day and declared that she'd found "her shopping paradise" :) Everyone loves TK Maxx <3

Since we were in Charlottenburg – possibly for the first time – we decided to go see Schloss Charlottenburg and the Christmas market there. Sure, it was big, pretty and had free entrance, but it was also a bit kitchy and crowded for our liking.



When we found ourselves in Neukölln today, we decided to take advantage of the shopping Sunday (the shops in Berlin are closed on most Sundays of the year), and check out the TK Maxx there, too. It was a lot less crowded, so we could really engage in rummaging around and two hours later we walked out with more Christmas presents and two sweaters for A. Dangerous place, that is!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Frosted city


Yesterday we had no snow in Berlin – even if even Ireland had had its fair share by then. After nine in the evening it started and so it snowed all night. When I woke up today, it was bright and utterly white outside my window. It snowed all day long, until the late afternoon, and now we have an impressive layer of frosting over the whole city. Berlin is pretty again! Let's just wait and see how long the enthusiasm lasts :P

I had to abandon my bike for now and buy a monthly train ticket this morning. I invested in the 10am montly ticket and thanks to the S-bahn chaos apology from BVG, the €15 discount on it meant that it only cost €36! Now that's a bargain!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Last day of cycling



Happy December 1st! Voilá: instant winter! It has been -10°C and a cold wind made it a nasty day – specially to cycle. I think I will have to take the train tomorrow, and in the worst case scenario, until the end of February :(

I met S for a language tandem tonight at the Kulturbrauerei Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt. All we could bear was one cup of glögi before running to a café for a hot chocolate with rum. I was joking that my tactics to keep warm in the winter will be to always carry a flask of vodka with me to keep warm. It would make the blood flow and the cold seem less annoying, for sure! It's not even entirely a joke, if this weather keeps...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Advent dinner. -1°C.



We just said goodbye to our friends M, M and little J. Only Mrs. M had been to our "new" apartment before – only briefly in summer – so it was about time to have them over and make them dinner. J was nervous when he first came through the door and wanted to check the whole apartment thoroughly before he could settle – and by the end of the evening he felt so familiar here, that he said good night to each room separately before they left :)

We went shopping for dinner supplies to the Boxhagener Platz food market yesterday. It is a little bare now in winter and all the stall keepers where shivering and rubbing their hands together in vain. It's funny that -2°C can feel so cold already! We got a bunch of beetroots for a pasta sauce, (€1,50 for about 5 kilos!), goat cheese, also for the pasta, a big loaf of bread and of course some licorice and salmiakki from the regular candy man there.

While preparing for the dinner tonight, we slowly realised that we have about double the amount of beetroots that we need for the pasta... And as we're serving the food, we see that we also have double the amount of dinner. So we're eating beetroots for the next week / week and a half. Seasonal, regional and healthy!


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A visit to the kitchen (and Wedding)

J turned three today, hooray! So we were invited to his birthday party in Wedding, and I made chocolate and oat treats to bring with us: they were super easy to make and went down a treat!

We bought J a train cart that goes with his wooden train set – that we then had to watch him play with the whole evening. M had made a cool chocolate-banana birthday cake, topped by a lego construction site. We had such a nice time hanging out with M, M and J, that as usual I feel we don't see them enough. Wedding is really, really far from Friedrichshain, it seems! We invited them for an early Sunday dinner, so we get to see them soon again.

Next week our flat-mate finally moves out and my mom takes over our living room for the weekend...



Chocolate and oat treats (makes about 30)

100g organic butter
100ml icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)
4 tbsp Fair Trade cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla sugar
300ml oat flakes
1 tsp water
100g Fair Trade, organic dark or milk chocolate
Icing sugar and cocoa powder for decoration

Combine sugar and butter in a bowl and mix to an even paste. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla sugar and oat flakes (and a teaspoon of water if it seems too dry), and mix again. Melt the chocolate carefully using a water bath. I don't have a layered pot, so I boiled water in a regular pot, put the chocolate in a cup and placed the cup in the water. Because chocolate burns easily, a water bath an easy way to melt it. Pour the chocolate in with the rest of the ingredients, make sure the mixture is even. Let it cool in the fridge for about 10 minutes. Prepare two bowls; one with icing sugar and one with cocoa powder. Roll (the amount of a heaped teaspoon) of chocolate dough in the palm of your hands into balls, drop them into one of the smaller bowls to then coat them in icing sugar or cocoa powder. Store the treats in fridge if you don't eat them right away.

Recipe from Chocochili.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A missed opportunity for an early Christmas

Working still: yesterday I was home at 1am, tonight at half past ten, tomorrow back again.

I'm really bummed that I'm missing the Finnish Christmas market in Kreuzberg today and tomorrow... But Monday marks the beginning of Christmas – most of the Christmas markets open on November 22nd! This year I will make sure to finally try roasted chestnuts, to avoid Glühwein (yuck!) and to find another hot drink to keep warm with at the markets. The Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt in Prenzlauer Berg has a Nordic them and serves Finnish and Swedish glögg – far better than English or German mulled wines. Bring on the snow!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Terror

When we heard the news yesterday at the office that Germany is being targeted by terrorists, one of our interns freaked out. She was really chocked when everyone else just shrugged their shoulders and laughed at her. I've never lived in a city or a country directly threatened by terrorists, but somehow I can't take it very seriously. Well, of course it's serious, but I'm sure it's more likely that I get hit by a car tomorrow, than by a bomb... Still, maybe I'll avoid Alexanderplatz even more than usual for a while.

Work, Harry Potter and potatoes

Work, work, work – blahblahblah. Yes, I've been spending a lot of time at the office. Yes, the weather is miserable and rainy.

Luckily we had booked tickets to the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1 already a month ago. Before going to the cinema we met our friends M&M for baked potatoes at Bixels, a restaurant in Mitte that only serves baked potatoes (and salads). Thumbs up! They were really delicious and the toppings were all more exciting than I would think to do at home, so definitively worth €5-6. But then again, I'm a sucker for spuds :)


Sunday, 14 November 2010

November sun

Mauerpark and the last warm day of the year?
The Bearpit Karaoke seems more popular than ever.
It's mid-November and we got to enjoy a temperature of +18°C and sun today! Wohoo! But isn't it just typical that our friends H and C left for Helsinki this morning, and all they saw in Berlin was rain... After they left we tried to make the most of the weather anyway by going to Mauerpark for a stroll. We haven't been there for months and were certainly reminded of that it really is the best Sunday market around: there's so much music, so much food, such a good atmosphere, so many things I could want. Sure, it can be a bit crowded, but that's a good excuse to stop for something to eat or drink while people watching. We found a birthday present for A's mom – like two weeks in advance –so for once we won't have to panic about finding and sending someone a gift on time!

As it happens, I found a new favourite fast food today in Mauerpark, the Turkish gözleme: thinly kneaded dough, fried on a rounded pan, folded over and filled, then served with a salad. Ours was filled with spinach and cheese, then wrapped around some fresh salad. The gözleme had a lovely crepe-like taste with a touch of great grill aroma and was fresh and light to eat. I feel an addiction coming on!

Keeping up with the gözleme orders required four strong women.
Gözleme with spinach, cheese and salad, €3.50

Happy travels!

I use public transport fairly little – as long as the weather permits I prefer to zoom around on my blue bicycle. I seem to be lucky to not even have noticed, but the S-bahn has had a lot troubles this year and as an apology BVG are turning our Einzelfahrscheins, one trip tickets, into day tickets for the weekends in November and December. The monthly passes are also 15 euro cheaper these two months. (Read about it here.)

Our friends from London were here for the weekend and told us that the trains in London have had problems, too, and because problems equal costs, they end up raising the ticket prices. BVG's action is much more to my liking!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Happy Martinstag!

All of a sudden there was a terrible racket outside the office today. I thought it was one of those post-teenage guys with a "cool" car and playing his music loudly – but as my colleagues ran out to the balcony, I realised it was something else. Our little street was taken over by a parade of children and parents, carrying colourful paper lanterns and singing.

Happy St Martin's Day, apparently!

Paris, je t'aime!



 
 

Paris was FANTASTIC. I've been there once before, but didn't really remember much of it, so I assumed I hadn't been too impressed. Now I was; everything was quaint, charming and everyone was friendly. I was there with my three best friends and we had so much fun – in fairness, you could probably have dumped us in Siberia and we would have enjoyed ourselves :P

I flew with Easy Jet (€107e, return, including a check-in bag) for the first time, and found it ok, pretty much like Ryan-air: they charged for extra luggage, they don't assign seats, they sell priority boarding and don't give you any food or drink on the plane, unless you are willing to pay. The flight was about 1 hour and 50 minutes long and everything was on time. I flew to Orly (sud) and had to take three trains to reach our hostel, near the Bastille. That felt really complicated compared to Berlin.

Our hostel, Auberge Internationale des Jeunes, was really basic, you could even call it crappy, but it only cost us €17 per night for a four person room. You get what you pay for... A friend of mine worked there when she lived in Paris, and actually tried to persuade me to cancel our reservations. We had already paid a deposit, so we decided we could handle it, and it really wasn't that bad: the room was very prison-like and the bathroom door was open on the top and the bottom halves, but it was also clean and seemed very safe. It was probably a good time of the year to be traveling: the hostel was pretty empty and all the landmarks we visited were bearable and not overcrowded.

We did very little proper sightseeing and didn't go to any museums. My favourite sight was the Montmartre area. I wish it had been a little warmer so we could have had some wine on the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur church... But we did drink enough red wine to make up for it on other occasions. We also ate many pain au chocolats, baguettes and drank many cups of wonderful coffee – seriously, it was delicious everywhere! Everywhere we walked we saw people being served amazingly big looking salads, and particularly the goats cheese caught our eye. We tried desperately to find suitable salad places when we got hungry, but never managed. On two nights we even ended up settling for pizza. On our last night we were strolling around the Latin Quarters and Notre Dame, and finally found a restaurant that served a salad with warm goats cheese (€14,50) and without meat. La Fourmi Ailée turned out to offer us the best meal we had all weekend, and in a really cosy atmosphere, too. To top it all off, the waitor was cute and to our surprise we found tofu lasagna on their menu (€13,50)!


Now I'm a big fan of Paris and want to take A there as soon as I can! Although we just got an invitation today to a wedding in London next spring, so maybe Paris can wait...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cyclist alert!

I had the most annoying cycle ride home from work tonight; my dynamo didn't want to cooperate and the front light was having a connectivity problem and kept going on and off at every bump in the road. I was sure I was going to be pulled over for a bike inspection: the police are watching us cyclists extra carefully right now, so make sure your lights work and that you have enough reflectors and a bell on your bike – or you could end up paying a €100 fee. At least I missed all the rain today, I didn't even see it, just heard peoples complaints.

When I got home A and I went out for dinner at our favourite Korean restaurant, Maru on Rigaer Straße in Friedrichshain. They do a kick-ass bibimbap and serve aloe vera juice, that I just can't seem to find anywhere here in Berlin.

We felt allowed to splurge on dinner a little, since we won't be sharing meals for a few days: I'll be spending a long weekend in Paris with my bestest friends. I'm so excited!

Old/new brunch favourite

There are a few things I knew I would miss when we moved from Prenzlauer Berg: the salty licorice from Bärenland, the excellent Chinese dumplings at Wok Show, the amazing pizzas at A Magica and, finally, the festive Sunday brunch buffet at Pasternak. This brunch is unbelievable: there's so much food, it's so good and it's so beautiful.

Since we moved to Friedrichshain I have wanted to try Pasternak's sibling restaurant, Datcha. On Sunday we finally did, after four months of thinking about it. The brunch costs €9,80 per person (compared to €12,40 in P'berg) and it's the same spread that I remember from Pasternak – the only difference I noticed was that it's a bit louder and busier in the Friedrichshain branch, which some might even prefer. When we finished our meal I could hardly button up my coat anymore! Dangerous place :)

Just avarage is not good enough

On Saturday we went for burgers and fries to White Trash Fast Food – a less than impressive restaurant in Mitte, loved by tourists. Sure, it's kitschy and unexpected, but the food is only average and all in all it just feels a bit forced.

After dinner and a cocktail we moved on to check out the monthly Nachtkonsum flea market. I must say that it, too, was a bit disappointing: not so much night and not so much shopping... The market opens at 17.00 and only goes on until midnight. Having a three euro entrance fee is crazy considering how many bigger and better (free) flea markets we have in Berlin... But I did buy a very pretty necklace, so no hard feelings!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Closing time

Today was the opening of the last show at MMX, one of my favourite (= they have a bar) Berlin galleries. Apparently it was always just going to be a one year project, and now a year has passed. The art itself was a bit random, except for a funny video piece of Germans telling jokes and a video installation featuring Katharine Hepburn making coffee, but the atmosphere was great. Another thing that drew me to MMX tonight was the Taco Truck, that I had hear great things about, but never managed to catch. I had a good veggie taco, my friend P a chicken one – but is two euro a bit much for such a tiny thing? I don't know, but it sure was tasty!

The flatmate experiment is going pretty well, albeit it's only day 2. P and I have been seeing a lot of each other, but how could I go off gallivanting and not invite her to come along? I do have to confess that I find it great that she has her own plans for the whole weekend... Me too: tomorrow's I'm checking out the monthly midnight flea market (€3 entry) with "the Finns" and on Sunday it's Irish Halloween with traditional apple bobbing, a scary film and pumpkin soup at D&M's house. Ich freu mich!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Flatmate

It's been hectic at work again, but now another issue is being printed and I get to exhale. A little. On my day off today, I've been sprucing up our home a little. For instance, I unpacked the third to last moving box: the books that finally have a book shelf to live in! We get a flatmate on Wednesday.

P, who I met in my German class last autumn, is moving in with us for a few weeks while she's looking for a room to rent. I'm a little nervous about how my poor nerves will deal with someone else sharing our home, but also I know from experience that it keeps the house clean and it keeps us more organized. And she's Swedish, so we don't have to explain the whole no-shoes-indoors thing to her, or why we eat dinner so early, or why you don't wash dishes with the kitchen rag. It will be fine.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Lonely no more

A is coming home tomorrow, yay! We get to have breakfast together, then I have to hurry to work... And he'll go to bed, I reckon. His bands gig at the festival went well and I think he got to see pretty much every friend and relative that needs to be seen. It's never really a holiday to visit at home, is it?

I must say that this week has flown by, I have hardly been at home – unfortunately a little bit because of work, too. I only ate maybe one or two meals at home, and so today, too, I had dinner with S, D and their friend at one of our favourite restaurants, Wok Show in P'berg.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Home alone

I have no camera and no boyfriend for almost a week. A is in Finland to play a gig with his old band at a festival in our home town. I wish I was there too, but alas, it's too busy at work right now.

The weather was pretty nice today, I cycled around a bit because I met S in P'berg for a Sprachtandem in our favourite café, Slörm. Unfortunately the weather forecast suggests a miserable, rainy weekend. I'm invited to a party on Saturday night, and I would finally like to go check out the monthly Homeless Veggie Dinners (terrible name!) in Kreuzberg: you receive a vegetarian meal for a small donation that goes towards helping the homeless in Berlin.

When will I have time for all the Grey's Anatomy marathons I planned? ;)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Cool Kino


Oh my, original language films in a cinema close to home! Wohoo!

We went to see the preview of The Road at Kino International on Karl-Marx-Allee last week, and I was really taken by the old, funky building. Very GDR, very fancy. The film, on the other hand, was depressing...

Today, I've mostly been eating...

...apple pie!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

October: Art month

I'm lucky because occasionally I get freebies through work and today we got to check out one of Berlin's October art fairs, Preview Berlin without having to pay the €10 entrance fee. This weekend there are six simultaneous art fairs in Berlin (!): Art Forum, Art Berlin Contemporary, Preview Berlin, Kunstsalon, Berliner Liste and Stroke.Artfair.

After a lovely Austrian breakfast with S and D in Marketta's Greisslerei we cycled to Kreuzberg in the lovely autumn weather. I enjoy passing through the touristy areas of Berlin (Museum Sinsel, Unter den Linden, Friedrichstraße...) once in a while to remind myself of the grandeur and beauty of the city, and to watch the tourists as they are experiencing their own version of Berlin. We very rarely have a reason to be in that part of town and I always get the same feeling: "I can't believe this is the city that I live in!".

Preview Berlin is held in Hangar 2 in Tempelhof, a former airport, and calls itself "the emerging art fair". There were some pretty cool things, some pretty weird things and some pretty boring things on display. I'm not sure if ten euro would have been very good value for us non-art-connoisseurs for a one hour stroll around the hangar....



Sunday, 3 October 2010

There is a house in New Orleans...

You know how someone tells you a film is amazing and you get really excited, and then when you finally see the film you are really disappointed? That's what happened to us with New Orleans Haus. Everyone and their mother recommended this little restaurant north of Görlitzer Park to us: "You have to go there!", "The food is so good!", "Best cheesecake in Berlin!".

My Crawfish Étouffée (€8,90) tasted mostly of celery, the crawfish was tough and it was obvious that the broth wasn't made with any seafood. It reminded me of some of my least favourite dishes in school. The Macaroni and Cheese Cake (€6,40) on the other hand was delicious: of course very cheesy and greasy. I wish it would have been served with a slightly acidic side dish, like a tomato salsa maybe, to cut the fat a little. We used the Louisiana "Original Louisiana Brand" hot sauce as a condiment, and that helped.

Out of curiosity we also ordered Corn Maque Choux (€2,80) and a piece of cornbread (€1,70) as sides. The corn salad felt very strange to our taste buds and we left most of in uneaten. But the cornbread! Then cornbread was delicious! I had never tasted any before and was totally taken by the distinct corn flavour and the sweetness – a happy surprise. It's just a pity that a small piece of baked goods was the highlight of our meal.

I'm sure the desserts would have redeemed New Orleans Haus, but after all these heavy dishes, we simply couldn't fit anything else in. Maybe I'll go back for the cornbread and a Lemon Bar.
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