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Raum: 1889

Germans in the Ether

by Wade F. Smith

In 1889, Germany was emerging from a year of chaos into an era of seeming greatness. The previous year had seen the death of the founding Kaiser, Wilhelm der Grosse, the long awaited accession of the liberal Emperor Friedrich III, followed by his death just three months later and finally the coronation of Wilhelm II. The German Empire was less than twenty years old. Few guessed that it might not outlive its young master.

The portents seemed good. After generations of weakness, schism, and humiliating conquest by Napoleon, the "nation of poets, philosophers and dreamers" was not only united, but a military power for the first time in centuries, and had even acquired an overseas empire. German industry had begun its own revolution, forging to the cutting edges of Victorian technology and creating a domestic prosperity that promised to end the steady flow of German emigrants to America, Brazil and Chile.

However, storm clouds were already appearing on the horizon. France was determined to seek revenge for the defeats of 1870, Italy was an unreliable ally, and England was looking askance at Victoria's favorite grandson's plan for naval supremacy. Perhaps worse, millions of Germans were opposed to the Reich. The largest socialist movement in Europe vowed that "for this system, not one man, not one penny." The Imperial mastermind, Bismarck, was already beginning to clash with an Emperor who intended not only to reign, but to rule. Whether Wilhelm's ability matched his intentions was another question.

The German Empire of 1889 was in fact a federation of what had been, up until 1870, over two dozen independent states, ranging from giant Prussia (which covered almost two-thirds of Germany) down to Hanseatic city-states and postage-stamp Thuringian duchies.

Despite Prussia's dominance, resentment of the so-called "land of the corporal's stick" and resistance to it were far from dead, especially in traditionally more liberal southern Germany. Bavaria, the second largest and most nationalistic German State, retained not only its own army uniforms, but its own General Staff, and banned flying the German flag on the Kaiser's birthday.

If Bavaria looked down its nose at Prussia, then Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck, secure in their ancient status as independent maritime city-states, looked down their nose at Germany.

Other states had insane boundaries. Saxe-Coberg-Gotha, home of Queen Victoria's husband, consisted of two separate tracts of land sixty miles apart, totaling only 110 square miles altogether.

Politically, the Empire was a jumble of anomalies. The only state in Europe that gave the vote to all adult males without qualification, it was a deeply right-wing government created by liberals which harbored the most powerful left-wing movement in the world. Its constitution was carefully constructed to give the appearance of democracy while preserving real power in the hands of an aristocratic ruler, who was as yet only first among equals with the rulers of the 25 separate states that made up his empire.

As Kaiser, Wilhelm von Hohezollern actually wore three hats. He was simultaneously German Emperor (never Emperor of Germany); King of the largest German state, Prussia, and Supreme Warlord of the Imperial Armies and Navy. As King, he appointed all royal officials in Prussia, including seventeen members of the Federal Council (Bundesrat); as Warlord, all military and naval officers; and as Emperor, the Imperial Chancellor (Riechskanzler), who to 1889 had always been Otto von Bismarck.

Bismarck was thus to a great degree free of his own creation, the democratically elected Reichstag. Although Bismarck was no friend to democracy, the political reality that liberals would support German unification while conservatives opposed it had forced certain concessions on him. However, since he depended on royal favor, not the consent of the Reichstag for his office, Bismarck could and often did simply act as his wished in the teeth of Parliamentary resolutions to the contrary.

In addition, all laws had to pass not only the Reichstag, but also the Bundesrat, which represented the rulers of the member states, in which any 14 votes vetoed the bill. Since the Emperor effectively controlled 17 votes, he was assured that no bill he disliked would pass.

However, any three or four of the medium sized states such as Bavaria or Saxony could also muster that number of votes, so the Old Emperor and Chancellor had found that the ability to block any legislation they opposed did not mean the ability to make any law they wanted. Also, the government needed money, which meant taxes, which required making enough concessions to get a majority in parliament. At this art, Bismarck proved a master, cheerfully switching his support from liberals to conservatives depending on which one was more likely to vote his way at the moment.

In this, he was helped by the way the Reichstag was divided between 6 or 7 major parties, plus a few minor ones, all representing relatively narrow class and sect interests.

On the right were the Conservatives, dedicated to preserving aristocratic privilege and the autonomy of the smaller states where they held sway. Although they blindly supported the army and its blue-blooded officer corps, they frequently opposed naval build-up in the false belief that the navy was pro-liberal. The Riechspartei was equally conservative, but pro-navy, pro-colonial, pro-Bismarck and smaller than the traditional Conservatives. Both parties primarily drew votes from the upper classes and farmers.

The National Liberals were the party of big business. Traditionally, they had supported German unity, a navy, free enterprise, democracy, civil rights and some concern for the poor. Bismarck had delivered on unity and free enterprise. In exchange, the Liberals junked the rest of their program for a political power that now eluded them. The Freisinnige Liberals were a small collection of intransigents who clung to the old program and were even farther from real power. Most of their voters were small businessmen and skilled workers.

The Social Democrats were the voice of the working class. Closely tied to the labor unions, avowedly radical socialist, and anti-imperial, the SDs were on their way to becoming the largest party despite having been outlawed in 1885. Despite the banning and Bismarck's continuing persecution, they had preserved an underground structure and continued to win elections. In the end, the persecution succeeded only in creating a small anarchist faction, the FVDG.

Equally harassed were south Germany's Catholics. In response to Bismarck's Kulturkrieg, they had organized the Centre Party. The only party representing people of all social classes, and the closest thing to a moderate party in Germany, its narrow religious base kept it from becoming a true mass party. It was usually allied with a minor party representing East Prussia's Polish minority.

Other minor parties included the Danes, Guelphs (who wanted restoration of the Kingdom of Hanover), and portending an ugly future, the anti-semites.

If Bismarck had misjudged the power of the Reichstag, he also misjudged his royals. Old Wilhelm I had early recognized that Bismarck was smarter than he was and had always stayed in the background, giving his chancellor a free hand and backing him blindly. It had been assumed that the coronation of Friedrich III, an avowed liberal, would mean Bismarck's fall, but Friedrich was already a dying man the minute he took the throne and did not live long enough to depose the Iron Chancellor. His son, the newly crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II, opposed his father's liberalism, if only out of adolescent rebellion, and seemed a Bismarck supporter. However, he was set on being not only the figurehead on the throne, but the real power in the land.

Bismarck would either be his humble, obedient servant (never apt adjectives for the bluff old autocrat), or he would be replaced.
Emperor Wilhelm II

In his own way, Wilhelm was to cast as long a shadow over the Germany of his era as his grandmother did over England. His contemporaries thought him one of the brightest and best educated European monarchs of his day. Certainly one of the most charming by all accounts, for he had a keen sense of humor that could usually laugh at himself. However, a need to compensate for his crippled arm lead him to adopt a macho front that had Berlin constantly apologizing for his tough talk.

Among those charmed were the English. Relations between the powers at this time were good. Bismarck had carefully kept from any action that might threaten English interests overseas and the British Empire was not concerned with mainland Europe. Besides, there were all those family ties. Queen Victoria's ancestors had been kings both of England and the German state of Hannover. Her cousin, the Duke of Cumberland, was not only pretender to the throne of Hannover but heir to the Duchy of Brunswick. Victoria herself had married a prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Since her brother-in-law was childless, one of her sons was now heir to this small German throne. Her oldest daughter Vicky had married Friedrich III and the Kaiser was the Queen's own favorite grandson.

Bismarck and Wilhelm

So, the basis for a firm friendship seems in place, but blood doesn't just unite; it also feuds.

Economically, the Empire was undergoing a real boom. Much like the United States, Germany was transforming itself from a large but underdeveloped rural nation into an industrial giant. A huge steel industry was developing in the Ruhr Valley and a chemical and optical industry in Saxony. Hamburg and Bremen were home to shipping lines that were about to challenge the British merchant fleet for supremacy on the seas. Germany also had the most developed forest industry in Europe and had forged the cutting edge of Victorian technology as inventors and scientists like the Siemens brothers, Otto Diesel, Karl Benz (of Mercedes-Benz) and Ferdinand von Zepplin created new tools, processes and forms of transportation.

As Germany compiled impressive triumphs in science, medicine and engineering, expanded her trade across the world and dreamed of becoming an empire on the scale of Great Britain, it was hard for Germans to resist the feeling that they stood on the threshold of national greatness. Even the dissidents found themselves in danger of being carried away by a tide of sentiment previously unknown to Germans: Nationalism. Even the pacifists cheered when each March, Germany celebrated the military victory at Sedan that created the empire.

German Society

Like England, Germany was divided into fairly clear social classes, perhaps even more rigidly. At the top of the pyramid were the Kaiser and the rulers of the other German states and their immediate families. Under them came the other levels of society.

The Aristocracy consisted of the high nobility, including "mediatized princes", former rulers of states absorbed by larger neighbors. Generally, this meant anyone over the level of duke. Owing to Germany's lingering economic underdevelopment, this class had much less money than its British equivalent, but vastly more pride. This was especially pronounced in East Prussia. The Prussian economy was so impoverished before the empire that the old Kaiser had frequently had to travel Third-class on the railways (The young Kaiser, however, had his own private train).

The Wealthy Gentry in Germany was far from wealthy. In many cases, it was downright poverty-stricken. It did however, include the landed nobility with the titles of Baron, Count, and Rittmeister, as well as the wealthy capitalists who were beginning to appear. The Gentry included those nobles who had no lands or money, just the title. A number of them attempted to remedy this by marrying wealthy foreigners, such as American debutantes. It also included high-ranking, but non-noble, government officials; persons granted titles for service to the realm and members of the learned professions such as professors, doctors, scientists or lawyers. Army officers did not have to be members of the Gentry (even a few working class sergeants made officer during this period), but were always treated as if they were.

The Middle Class was pretty much the same as its equivalent in England, but less assertive politically. Many, despite the factiousness of German politics, took great pride in being "non-political". They asked only to be told what to do, and what taxes to pay. On the other hand, radicals like Karl Liebknicht also came from this strata.

The Artisans were also much as in England, but less well paid or organized.

The Working Classes, on the other hand, were far more militant. The Social Democratic Party and affiliated labor unions provided an number of services, such as workers' clubs, hostels and adult education classes. In many ways, the SDP was a whole alternate society from upper class Germany.

The Rural Laborers were also much like their English counterparts, but again more poorly paid, especially in eastern Germany. However, western Germany and the Alps were home to numbers of free, landholding yeoman farmers. The eastern peasants and serfs should be treated as being Soc 1 and the yeomen as Soc 2.

In addition to social class, Germany was also divided by religion. Northern Germany was mostly Protestant, southern Germany and the Polish minority Catholic. Religion added fuel to the constant rivalry between the hated northern "Pig-Prussians" and the despised "Bavarian Swine" of the South. In the 1870s Bismarck had tried to suppress the political power of the Catholics, but succeeded only in making a stronger opposition. Ironically, under German law, the local ruler was simultaneously head of both churches in his domain.

Jews could be found everywhere, but were most common in the Rhine Valley. Odd as it sounds today, at that time Germany was the heart of Jewish culture in Europe. Prejudice existed, but anti-semites were far from control of the country and recent laws had ended all the ancient medieval disabilities. Few Germans were ever as patriotic and proud of the country as were the German Jews. For Game purposes, Jews are restricted to SOC 4 or less, and may not become army officers except in technical branches, but may enter any other career for which they qualify. Jewish characters automatically receive Linguistics 1 in Yiddish, a German dialect used by Jewish communities in Eastern and Central Europe.

Other minorities included Poles, Alsatians, Schleswig Danes and Wends in Mecklinburg. The Poles included titled noblemen and Polish characters may be of any Social level up to 5 and enter any career for which they qualify. Their native language, however, is Polish, and they automatically receive Linguistics 1 in German as a foreign language. Further levels are purchased according to the usual game rules.

The Alsatians had been French citizens up to 1871, and many were still openly loyal to France, an attitude Imperial governors encouraged by their arrogance. Despite this, some Alsatians were German patriots and had been throughout the 200 years France had held the land. An Alsatian's native language could be either French, German or Alsatian, an odd dialect combining both tongues. For Game purposes, all Alsatians will understand the local dialect and either French or German. They automatically receive Linguistics 1 in the other language as well. They are restricted to SOC 3 or less, may become officers in the French, but not German armies, and may not enter government careers.

The Danes are treated similarly, except that their native language is Danish. The Wends have been so thoroughly Germanized that they are almost indistinguishable from other Germans. If a character is from Mecklinburg, he is Wendish on a role 4-6 on 1d6 and can speak Wendish as well as German on a second role of 5-6. There are no other special rules for Wends.

The German Army

The German Army, or rather armies, as each kingdom technically kept its own, was larger, better organized, and less experienced than the British. With no colonial empire, Germany had fought no colonial wars, and her army had fought only three campaigns since 1860. These were the Danish War of 1864, the Austrian War of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. All were short and victorious. Indeed, Germany's military reputation rested less on how often she had fought than the dazzling speed with which she won against even superior foes. A large part of the credit was due to the meticulous planning of the General Staff which always had detailed war plans ready for any possible conflict, and was more willing than the British or French to adopt technical innovations.

Unlike the British, the German Army was permanently organized in Corps of 4 infantry regiments, 2 cavalry regiments, and an artillery regiment of 3 batteries, plus engineers, medical and supply troops. Some of these were actually the armies of the smaller states.

Most of the different German uniforms are described in the Soldier's Companion. A few which are not are described below, along with rank insignia for the Imperial German Army.

Saxon Artillery: Jacket, green with red shoulder straps, collars and cuffs; Pants: black with red stripe; Helmet: black leather with ball mount on top. Equipment: black leather. Unit value and weapons as line artillery.

Guards: Guards regiments, including engineers and support troops wear the regular uniform with silver or gold double lace bars on collar and around the buttons on the cuffs.

Engineers: The same uniform as artillery troops, but with spiked instead of ball helmets. Railway, Telegraph and Airship units also wear guards lace, plus silver letters on the shoulder straps: E for railway, T for telegraph and L for airships.

Medical: Engineer uniforms with dark blue collars and cuffs.

Wurttemburg troops: As line infantry, only with double-breasted jackets.

Officers all wear silver colored metallic braid on their shoulder straps. Lieutenants and captains wear plain, flat braid with one pip for Oberleutnant, and two for Hauptman. Majors had their braid twisted into a knot. Lt. Colonels and Colonels wore major's braid with one or two pips respectively. Generals had knotted gold and silver braid with up to four pips and gold oakleaves on red collars and cuffs. Both officers and enlisted men wore their regiment's number on their shoulder straps.

Privates wear no insignia. Lance Corporals (Gefreiter) wear a button with the state coat of arms on the collar. Corporals have a silver or gold lace strip around the edges of the collar and cuffs. Stabsfeldwebels (sergeants) combined the button and lace strips; Vizefeldwebels had a larger button and the full feldwebel added a second lace strip on the cuff and an officer's sword.

Germany At Sea

The Germany Navy in 1889 was not nearly as formidable as the Army. It was so weak that it had not been able to challenge, let alone beat, the Danish navy in 1864 and had been commanded by army generals for the last 15 years. However, the new Kaiser had absorbed a love of the sea from his British ancestors and his fleet would soon be able to challenge the proud Royal Navy for command of the sea.

Naval uniforms were similar to British. Officers wore a dark blue double breasted, knee length coat, or, aboard ship, waist length jacket with white shirt, dark blue vest and pants, and black bow tie. The hat was a peaked cap with a black, white, red cockade in a wreath on the front. In the summer or tropics, the blue uniform was replaced by a white military tunic and trousers with a white cap or sun helmet.

Deck officers wore the officers short jacket with petty officers' insignia on the shoulder straps.

Enlisted men dressed as did British sailors, but added short monkey jacket for parade dress. The caps were softer and higher than the British with the Imperial cockade on the front and the ship or unit name in gold on a black ribbon around the base.

Officers wore gold rings as rank insignia on the cuffs of blue uniforms. Line officers had the Kaiser's crown above the rings, other officers had velvet between the rings in the following colors: Engineers, black; Medical, dark blue; Torpedo Officers, dark gray; Paymasters, light blue. In the white uniform, or the colonial forces, army style rank insignia were worn, but with black-silver-red, instead of plain silver braid on the shoulder straps, which were of arm of service color.

Enlisted rank insignia was worn on the left sleeve in gold or cornflower blue on the white uniform. Petty officers wore an anchor backed with a trade badge with a gold crown above for chief petty officers. Leading seamen wore a gold chevron under the badge. The Deck Crew had no badge. Boatswains wore a foul anchor, topmen a plain one. Maneuver crew had a gold cogwheel; gunners, crossed cannons; torpedo gunners, a red mine; signalmen, crossed red and white signal flags. Helmsmen wore a gold anchor with a red chevron underneath.

The German Navy had two battalions of marines, the Seebattalionen in 1889. The Seebattalionen wore dark blue jackets with white facings and shoulderstraps with a gold crown and crossed anchors. Pants were dark blue with a white stripe, The hat was a black shako. Equipment was white leather. Rank insignia was as for the army. Officers carried sabres and revolvers, enlisted men bolt action rifles and bayonets. Soldier's Companion rating: UV V0

Germans In Space:1889

Unfortunately, the popular image of Germany is set not by the Second, but by the Third Reich. It is therefore necessary to begin by saying that Germans in 1889 are not strutting, brownshirt Storm Troops. They have never heard of the Nazis and they should be played that way. They are not necessarily the bad guys, either. While the Germans of the Kaiserzeit could be arrogant and oppressive of natives, so were the British and French. On balance, they were no worse, and sometimes better than, their imperial rivals. It's worth noting that in the 1930s the people of Togo asked the League of Nations to take them away from the French and give them back to the Germans.

Given the diversity and localism of Germany society, it is hard to come up with a single description of the Victorian Germans. Among themselves, there were dozens of current stereotypes of what the people of the different regions of the country were like. Obviously, they weren't very accurate, but for the sake of color, some of them are repeated below.

Prussians: The Prussians (and other northern Germans) were the Spartans of Europe. North German Protestantism always had a Calvinist streak, aggravated by the persistent poverty in the east. Prussians prided themselves on making do with the absolute minimum, and an ironclad sense of duty. A true Prussian took responsibility and did what had to be done, no matter how difficult or distasteful, with maximum efficiency. The effectiveness and economy of their Civil Service were widely admired as were the courage and fighting spirit of their army. Their weakness was absolute faith in authority. They would obey all laws and orders even the most insane or suspicious without question. If they were obedient to superiors, Prussians could be unbearably arrogant to outsiders and servants. It may have been more a compensation for an inferiority complex, but it made them seem cold and dislikable, much as it did the British gentry who had a milder form of the same attitude.

Rhinelanders: Rhinelanders were supposedly much like their wines: effervescent and bubbly. Considered the wittiest and best-humored of Germans, they were noted as constant talkers and poets.

Saxons: By all accounts, the most down to earth and pragmatic of Germans, they were also the most left-wing and rebellious.

Bavarians: Bavarians were the most independent of Germans,and the most provincial. If they didn't invent the Redneck phrase "If you ain't from around here, you ain't worth cowflop," they certainly agreed with it. The premier party animals in a nation of party animals, they were also notorious for sheer crudeness. Prussians like to think of the Bavarians as a little slow an impression many Prussians lived to regret.

Hamburgers: The Hanseatics have a long tradition of overseas contacts and world trade. They are easily the most cosmopolitan Germans, and know it. In many respects, the wealthy merchants of Hamburg resemble well-bred English gentlemen, right down to their sneering attitude towards Germans.

If there is one thing that could be definitely said of the Germans, it was that they were not Victorians. They had a healthy regard for good clean (or even dirty) fun. The threat of having their beer cut off would drive even the most law-abiding Deutscher to riot. They enjoyed theatricals, parties, comfort, pretty girls or boys, didn't apologize for it, and despised the British excessive delicacy about sex and bodily functions. They preferred blunt, even impolite speech. Though more formal than Americans, or even the English, to "talk German" still meant calling a spade a bloody shovel.

Still, almost everyone had some kind of title, and was to be addressed by it. Heaven help anyone who forgets that.

As mentioned above, Germany had a strong reputation for science, philosophy and poetry. On the other hand, the Germans have always had a strong streak of mysticism, especially with regards to their forests and nature in general, and a sentimentality that could easily degenerate into kitsch.

Finally, this was a great era of emigration. Germans left their homes to move (and trade) all over the world. There were German sergeants in the US Cavalry (a Prussian nobleman had ridden with Jeb Stuart), German merchants from China to Brazil, German anarchists in London, and a German turned Muslim governing Equatoria. There was also a German prince, Louis Mountbatten, who became an admiral in the Royal Navy and a Scotsman, Tom von Prince, who became a German officer, married a countess, and retired to an estate in Africa.

Generating Characters

German player characters generate stats and skills in the same way as do British characters. However, there are some differences in careers available to reflect the differences in German society.

Government Careers: Although Germany had a colonial empire in 1889, it had only acquired it in the last five years. To reflect this, the Colonial Office career is not available, and is replaced by a bureaucratic career called Official. The Police career is also available.

OFFICIAL (INT 4+, SOC 3+): Eloquence 1, Leadership 2, Observation 2, Linguistics l (Latin or Greek), Science 1

POLICE OFFICIAL (SOC 3-5, STR 3+): Leadership 2, Observation 2, Close Combat 1 (Edged Weapons), Marksmanship 1, Eloquence 1

POLICEMAN (STR 3+, SOC 2+) Close Combat 1, Leadership 1, Marksmanship 1. In addition, select one of the following specialties:

SCHUPO (PATROLMAN) Close Combat 1, Marksmanship 1, Observation 1 Crime 1

KRIPO (DETECTIVE) Observation 2, Crime 2

SECRET POLICEMAN Theatrics 2, Crime 2

FORESTER: The gamekeeper career is a government service in Germany.

Army Careers: Skills are the same as for the English army, but with the following exceptions:

There are no colonial or fashionable regiments in the German Army. Fashionable regiments are replaced by the Guards Regiments and the Staff.

Colonial units in the German colonies are not considered part of the regular army and are available only as a second career.

For Engineers, the additional branches of Railway, Telegraph and Airship Battalions exist. Railway troops substitute Civil Engineering for Earthworks skill. Telegraph troop branch skills are: Electricity 2, Civil Engineering 1. Airship Battalion skills are: Piloting 2 (zeppelin), Trimsman

1. Social status 5 or 6 may not enlist in technical branches.

Infantry PCs may choose to enlist in a Jaeger regiment. The character loses one skill point and automatically gains 1 extra level of marksmanship and fieldcraft instead.

German Cavalry lose one skill point and add 1 level each of riding and pole arms (lance) skill.

Navy Careers: German Naval Characters are generated as in the standard rules, but add the following:

TORPEDO OFFICER (SOC 3-4): Electricity 2, Explosives 2, Leadership 1 and any two from the same group as enlisted men

SURGEON (SOC 3-4): Medicine 2, Biology 1, Leadership 1 and any two from the same group as enlisted men.

DECK OFFICER (INT 5+): Deck Officers were a category of warrant officers midway between petty officer and commissioned officer found only in the German navy. They are available as a second career only for petty officers with skills in Piloting, Steam Mechanics or Gunnery.

Optional Rule: the German Army, unlike the British, is raised by the draft. Roll 1d6 and on a roll of 1-2, the character is drafted (if male) and must spend his first career in either the Army or Navy.


Every successful adventure needs something for the heroes to win. Germans, like other characters, strive to win fame, cash, and medals.

The German currency in 1889 was the Mark, worth close enough to 1 shilling as makes no difference. Owing to the generally poorer German economy, referees may wish to limit German characters to half of the starting cash of British characters.

German Medals

Order of the Red Eagle: Prussia's highest award, it conveys an automatic title of nobility (increase SOC to 5 if less and add "von" to the name). Given only for the most extreme acts of heroism.

Order Pour le Mérite: Despite the French name, this was a Prussian award, second only to the Red Eagle. Awarded both for civilian and military courage, it also conveys nobility. Also known as the Blue Max.

Iron Cross: Equivalent to the English Military Medal. Given in two classes and the most commonly awarded medal.

Order of Maximilian: Awarded by the Bavarian king for distinguished scientific discoveries and explorations by Catholics.

Order of Sophia: This, and several similar medals, were awarded to women only for distinguished social service. They were often named after some prominently female member of the dynasty.

Most states also awarded their own medals to their citizens, including the Order of Albert the Bear (Anahlt); the Lion of Zahringen (Baden) and the Order of the Wendish Throne (Mecklinburg).

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:50:49 EDT

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