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15 September 1961: Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German soldier, jumps over a barbed wire fence and defects into West Germany on the third day of the construction of the Wall.
Berlin wall with soldiers on top


"Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") is a quotation from a

June the 26th 1963, speech by U.S. President John F.

Kennedy in West Berlin.


He was underlining the support of the United States for West

Germany 22 months after Soviet-supported East Germany

erected the  Berlin Wall  to prevent mass emigration to the



The message was aimed as much at the  Soviets  as it was

at Berliners and was a clear statement of U.S. policy in the

wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Another notable

(and defiant) phrase in the speech was also spoken in

German,"Lass' sienach Berlin kommen" ("Let them come to

Berlin"), addressed at those who claimed "we can work with

the Communists", are mark at which Nikita Khrushchev

scoffed only days later. The speech is considered one of Kennedy's best, both a notable

moment of the  Cold War  and a high point of the New Frontier. It was a great morale boost

for West Berliners, who lived in an enclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible

East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus

Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000, Kennedy said, Two thousand years ago, the

proudest boast was civis romanus sum "I am a Roman citizen". Today, in the world of

freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"... All free men, wherever they may live,

are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, take pride in the words  "Ich bin ein 



Kennedy used the phrase twice in his speech, including at the end, pronouncing the sentence with his Boston accent and reading from his note "ish bin ein Bearleener", which he had written out using English spelling habits to indicate an approximation of the German pronunciation. The speech first culminated with the first of two mentions of the Ich bin ein Berliner phrase:

                         "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner!" 

the fall of the berlin wall







What do Michael Jackson

and the Berlin wall have in common?


They were both massive

until the 1980's, when bits started to fall off.




U2 marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall by hosting a free concert

at Berlin's Brandenburg gate.


They then built a two meter wall around the venue to keep most of the Berliners out.


I doubt the Germans got the joke.




"Dave", I said to my mate, "There are memorable dates from history, that are etched on all our memories, like the first Moon landings, The Fall

of the Berlin Wall, JFK being shot and particularly September 11th 2004".

"Trev, It was 2001 mate".

"No Dave, September 11th 2004 was the first time I shagged your mum".




How do you double the

value of a East German

Trabant car?


Fill up the tank with gas!


trabants invade the west

The phrase and the legend are quoted very often in fiction and popular culture in the United States. Besides a direct quote, there exist many variations starting "Ich bin ein (+ noun, e.g., Frankfurter, Hamburger)" that is supposed to be understood by the primarily English-speaking audience based on the widespread knowledge of this German phrase and its myth. The phrase is perhaps ambiguous, but in context it is clear.


The Berlin Wall (German:

                                          Berliner Mauer) was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), starting on the 13th of August 1961, the wall completely cut off (by land) West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until it was opened in November 1989. Its demolition officially began on the 13th of June 1990 and was completed in 1992. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later know as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defences.  The Eastern Bloc  claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked East Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.


The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the  "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart"  (German:

                                                                                                                                                  Anti faschistischer Schutzwall)

by GDR authorities, implying that the NATO countries and West Germany in particular were "fascists." The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame" —a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt —while condemning the Wall's restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer

Inner German border (IGB), which demarcated the border between East and West

Germany, it came to symbolize the "Iron Curtain" that separated Western Europe and the

Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.


Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented  Eastern Bloc 

 emigration  restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border

from East Berlin into West Berlin; from which they could then travel to West Germany

and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the wall prevented

almost all such emigration. During this period, around 5,000 people attempted to escape

over the wall, with an estimated death toll ranging from 136 to more than 200 in and

around Berlin.


view from west berlin of the wall with graffiti art 1986

In 1989, a series of radical political changes occurred in the Eastern Bloc, associated

with the liberalization of the Eastern Bloc's authoritarian systems and the erosion of

political power in the pro Soviet governments in nearby Poland and Hungary. After

several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on the 9th

of November 1989 that all  GDR  citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin.

Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans

on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, euphoric people

and souvenir hunters chipped away parts of the wall; the governments later used

industrial equipment to remove most of what was left. Contrary to popular belief the wall's actual demolition did not begin until the summer of 1990 and was not completed until 1992. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on the 3rd of October 1990.


With the closing of the inner German border officially in 1952, the border in Berlin remained considerably more accessible then because it was administered by all four occupying powers. Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West. On the 11th of December 1957, East Germany introduced a new passport law that reduced the overall number of refugees leaving Eastern Germany. It had the unintended result of drastically increasing the percentage of those leaving through West Berlin from 60% to well over 90% by the end of 1958. Those caught trying to leave East Berlin were subjected to heavy penalties, but with no physical barrier and subway train access still available to West Berlin, such measures were ineffective.    

The Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape. The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totalled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.






















A important reason that the West Berlin border was not closed earlier was that doing so would cut off much of the railway traffic in East Germany. Construction of a new railway bypassing West Berlin, the  Berlin outer ring,  commenced in 1951. Following the completion of the railway in 1961, closing the barrier became a more practical position.


The emigrants tended to be young and well-educated, leading to the " brain drain "  feared by officials in East Germany. Yuri Andropov, then the CPSU Director on Relations with Communist and Workers Parties of Socialist Countries, wrote an urgent letter on the 28th of August 1958, to the Central Committee about the significant 50% increase in the number of East German intelligentsia among the refugees. Andropov reported that, while the East German leadership stated that they were leaving for economic reasons, testimony from refugees indicated that the reasons were more political than material.


An East German  SED propaganda booklet  published in 1955 dramatically described the serious nature of 'flight from the republic:

                    Both from the moral standpoint as well as in terms of the interests of the whole German nation, leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity. Those who let themselves be recruited objectively serve West German Reaction and militarism, whether they know it or not. Is it not despicable when for the sake of a few alluring job offers or other false promises about a "guaranteed future" one leaves a country in which the seed for a new and more beautiful life is sprouting, and is already showing the first fruits, for the place that favour's a new war and destruction?


Is it not an act of political depravity when citizens, whether young people, workers, or members of the  intelligentsia,  leave and betray what our people have created through common labour in our republic to offer themselves to the American or British secret services or work for the West German factory owners, Junkers, or militarists? Does not leaving the land of progress for the morass of an historically outdated social order demonstrate political backwardness and blindness? 


Workers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the  imperialists  and militarists.

 View from the West Berlin 

 side of graffiti art on 

 the wall in 1986. 

 The wall didn’t fall in a day. 

 On Dec the 31st, 

 a little girl chiselled away at the 

 Berlin Wall from the east side. 

The wall didn’t fall in a day. On Dec. 31, a little girl chiseled away at the Berlin Wall from the east side.


By 1960, the combination of World War II and the massive emigration

westward left East Germany with only 61% of its population of working

age, compared to 70.5% before the war. The loss was disproportionately

heavy among professionals:

                                            engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers,

lawyers and skilled workers. The direct cost of manpower losses to East

Germany (and corresponding gain to the West) has been estimated at $7

billion to $9 billion, with East German party leader  Walter Ulbricht  later

claiming that West Germany owed him $17 billion in compensation,

including reparations as well as manpower losses. In addition, the drain of

East Germany's young population potentially cost it over 22.5 billion marks in

lost educational investment. The brain drain of professionals, had become

so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East

Germany, that the re-securing of the German communist frontier was


On the 15th of June 1961, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and

GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press

conference "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!"  (No one

has the intention of erecting a wall!). It was the first time the colloquial term

Mauer (wall) had been used in this context.


The transcript of a telephone call between  Nikita Khrushchev  and Ulbricht on

the 1st of August in the same year, suggests that the initiative for the

construction of the wall came from Khrushchev. However, other sources

suggest that Khrushchev had initially been wary about building a wall, fearing

negative Western reaction. What is beyond dispute, though, is that Ulbricht

had pushed for a border closure for quite some time, arguing that East

Germany's very existence was at stake.


Khrushchev had been  emboldened  by US President John F. Kennedy’s tacit

indication that the US would not actively oppose this action in the Soviet sector

of Berlin. On Saturday, the 12th of August 1961, the leaders of the GDR

attended a garden party at a government guest house in Döllnsee, in a

wooded area to the north of East Berlin. There Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and erect the wall.



 Though its crossing would remain closed 

 for several weeks, the Brandenburg Gate, 

 blocked off for years due to the wall’s 

 presence, became another gathering point 

 for celebrating Germans. 


Though its crossing would remain closed for another several weeks, the Brandenburg Gate, blocked off for years due to the wall’s presence, became another gathering point for celebrating Germans.

At midnight, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border and, by Sunday morning, the 13th of August, the border with West Berlin was closed. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the border to make them impassable to most vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156  kilometres (97 mi) around the three western sectors, and the 43 kilometres (27 mi) that divided West and East Berlin.


The barrier was built slightly inside East Berlin or East German territory to

ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point. Later, it was

built up into the Wall proper, the first concrete elements and large blocks

being put in place on the 17th of August. During the construction of the

Wall, National People's Army ( NVA ) and Combat Groups of the Working

Class (KdA) soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who

attempted to defect. Additionally chain fences, walls, minefields and other

obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany's western

border with West Germany proper. A huge no man's land was cleared to

provide a clear line of fire at fleeing refugees.


With the closing of the East-West sector boundary in Berlin, the vast

majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West

Germany. Berlin soon went from being the easiest place to make an

unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to being the

most difficult. Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in

the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated

enclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall,

led by their Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Willy Brandt, who strongly

criticized the United States for failing to respond. Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State  Dean    Rusk  proclaimed, "The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is — to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to Communist failure."


US and UK sources had expected the Soviet sector to be sealed off from West Berlin, but were surprised by how long the East Germans took for such a move. They considered the wall as an end to concerns about a GDR/Soviet retaking or capture of the whole of Berlin; the wall would presumably have been an unnecessary project if such plans were afloat. Thus they concluded that the possibility of a Soviet military conflict over Berlin decreased.


The East German government claimed that the Wall was an "anti-fascist

protective rampart" (German:

                                              "antifaschistischer Schutzwall") intended to

dissuade aggression from the West. Another official justification was the

activities of western agents in Eastern Europe. The Eastern German

government also claimed that West Berliners were buying out state-

subsidized goods in East Berlin. East Germans and others greeted such

statements with  scepticism,  as most of the time, the border was only

closed for citizens of East Germany traveling to the West, but not for

residents of West Berlin travelling to the East. The construction of the

Wall had caused considerable hardship to families divided by it. Most

people believed that the Wall was mainly a means of preventing the

citizens of East Germany from entering or fleeing to West Berlin.


The  National Security Agency  was the only American intelligence

agency that was aware that East Germany was to take action to deal with

the brain drain problem, i.e. the outflow of East-Germans via Berlin. On

the 9th of August 1961, the NSA intercepted an advance warning

information of the Socialist Unity Party's plan to close the intra-Berlin

border between East and West Berlin completely for foot traffic. The

interagency intelligence Watch Committee assessed that this

intercept "might be the first step in a plan to close the border."


This warning did not reach U.S. President John F. Kennedy until noon on

the 13th of August 1961, while he was vacationing in his yacht off the

 Kennedy Compound  in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. While Kennedy

was angry that he had no advance warning, he was relieved that the East

Germans and the Soviets had only divided Berlin without taking any action against West Berlin's access to the West.

However he denounced the Berlin Wall, whose erection worsened the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.





 The fall of the wall 

 was the start of the true push for reunification 

 of the country, as demonstrated by this group of 

 Berlin citizens holding a German flag and a poster reading 

 Deutschland Einig Vaterland 

 (“Germany United Fatherland”). 


The fall of the wall was the start of the true push for reunification of the country, as demonstrated by this group of Berlin citizens holding a German flag and a poster reading Deutschland Einig Vaterland (“Germany United Fatherland”).

In response to the erection of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy appointed retired General Lucius D. Clay, who had been the Military Governor of the US Zone of Occupation in Germany during the period of the Berlin Blockade and had ordered the first measures in what became the Berlin Airlift, as his special advisor, sending him to Berlin with ambassadorial rank. Clay was immensely popular with the residents of West Berlin, and his appointment was an unambiguous sign that Kennedy would not compromise on the status of West Berlin. Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived at  Tempelhof   Airport  on the afternoon of Saturday, the 19th of August 1961.


They arrived in a city defended by three Allied brigades—one each from the UK, the US, and France (the Forces Françaises

à Berlin). On the 16th of August, Kennedy had given the order for them to be reinforced. Early on the 19th of August, the 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry (commanded by Colonel Glover S. Johns Jr.) was alerted. On Sunday morning, U.S. troops marched from West Germany through East Germany, bound for West Berlin. Lead elements—arranged in a column of 491 vehicles and trailers carrying 1,500 men, divided into five march units—left the  Helmstedt-Marienborn  checkpoint at 06:34.  At Marienborn the Socheckpoint next to Helmstedt the West German/East German border, US personnel were counted by                                                                                                                    guards. The column was 160 kilometres (99 mi)                                                                                                                            long, and covered 177 kilometres (110 mi) Marienborn                                                                                                                  to Berlin in full battle gear.


                                                                                                              The front of the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Berlin                                                                                                                just before noon, to be met by Clay and Johnson,                                                                                                                          before parading through the streets of Berlin in front of                                                                                                                  a large crowd. At 04:00 on 21 August, Lyndon Johnson                                                                                                                  left West Berlin in the hands of Gen.  Frederick Hartel                                                                                                                   and his brigade of 4,224 officers and men.


                                                                                                              Every three months for the next three and a half years                                                                                                                  new American battalions rotated into West Berlin; each                                                                                                                  travelled by the autobahn to demonstrate Allied rights.


                                                                                                              The creation of the wall had important implications                                                                                                                        for both German states. By stemming the exodus of                                                                                                                      people from East Germany, the East German                                                                                                                                government was able to reassert its control over the                                                                                                                      country:

                                                                                                                           in spite of discontent with the wall, economic                                                                                                                    problems caused by dual currency and the black market                                                                                                                were largely eliminated. The economy in the GDR                                                                                                                        began to grow. But the wall proved a public relations                                                                                                                      disaster for the bloc as a whole. Western powers                                                                                                                          portrays a symbol of communist  tyranny. 

west germany east germany flag map 1948 1990



The Berlin Wall was more than 140 kilometres (87 mi) long. In June 1962, a second,

parallel fence was built some 100 metres (110 yd) farther into East German territory.

The houses contained between the fences were razed and the inhabitants relocated,

thus establishing what later became known as the  Death Strip.  The Death Strip was

covered with raked sand or gravel, rendering footprints easy to notice, easing the

detection of trespassers and also enabling officers to see which guards had neglected

their task; offered no cover; and, most importantly, it offered clear fields of fire for the

wall guards.


Through the years, the Berlin Wall evolved through four versions:


  • Wire fence (1961)

  • Improved wire fence (1962–1965)

  • Concrete wall (1965–1975)

  • Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975–1989)


The "fourth-generation wall", known officially as " Stützwandelement UL 12.11 "

(retaining wall element UL 12.11), was the final and most sophisticated version of the

Wall. Begun in 1975 and completed about 1980, it was constructed from 45,000

separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 metres (12 ft) high and 1.2 metres

(3.9 ft) wide, and cost DDM 16,155,000 or about US $3,638,000. The concrete

provisions added to this version of the Wall were done so as to prevent escapees from

driving their cars through the barricades. At strategic points, the wall was constructed to

a somewhat weaker standard, so that East German and Soviet armored vehicles could

easily break through in the event of war. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth

pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. The wall was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, "beds of nails" under balconies hanging over the "death strip", over 116 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall. The layout came to resemble the inner German border in most technical aspects, except that the Berlin Wall had no landmines nor  spring-guns. 


This section of the Wall's "death strip" featured Czech hedgehogs, a guard tower and a cleared area, 1977.

 This section of the Wall's "death strip" 

 featured Czech hedgehogs, a guard tower 

 and a cleared area,1977. 

 Checkpoint Charlie  (or "Checkpoint C") was the name given by the

Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East

Berlin and West Berlin, during the Cold War.


GDR leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuverered to get the Soviet

Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961, to stop Eastern

Bloc emigration westward through the Soviet border system, preventing

escape across the city sector border from East Berlin to West Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the

separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly

faced each other at the location during the  Berlin Crisis of 1961. 


After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany,

the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now

located in the Allied Museum in the  Dahlem  neighbourhood of Berlin.


Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall located at the

junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße (which

for older historical reasons coincidentally means 'Wall Street'). It is in the

Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as

the single crossing point (by foot or by car) for foreigners and

members of the Allied forces. (Members of the Allied forces were not

allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated or use by foreigners, the Friedrichstraße railway station). The name Charlie came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West: 

         Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner

of Berlin. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point (КПП Фридрихштрассе). The East Germans referred officially to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle ("Border Crossing Point") Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.


As the most visible Berlin Wall checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie is frequently featured in spy movies and books. A famous cafe and viewing place for Allied officials, Armed Forces and visitors alike,  Cafe Adler  ("Eagle Café"), is situated right on the checkpoint. It was an excellent viewing point to look into East Berlin while having something to eat and drink.


The checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was

expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However, the Allied authority never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the well-known wooden shed, which was replaced during the 1980s by a larger metal structure, now displayed at the  Allied Museum in  western Berlin . Their reason was that they did not consider the inner Berlin sector boundary an international border and did not treat it as such.


Soon after the construction of the Berlin Wall, a standoff occurred between U.S. and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on the 22nd of October as a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a U.S. diplomat named Allan Lightner passing through to East Berlin to see the opera. By October the 27th, 10 Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 yards apart on either side of the checkpoint. The standoff ended peacefully on October the 28th following a U.S.-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks. Discussions between U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy  Georgi Bolshakov  played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.


The Berlin Wall was erected with great efficiency by the East German government in 1961, but there were many means of escape that had not been anticipated. For example, Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate, and a citizen of the GDR (East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected. Another escapee approached the barrier in a convertible, took the windscreen down at the last moment, and slipped under the barrier. This was repeated two weeks later, so the East Germans duly lowered the barrier and added uprights.


On the 17th of August 1962, a teenaged East German,  Peter Fechter,  was shot in the pelvis by East German guards while trying to escape from East Berlin. His body lay tangled in a barbed wire fence, and he bled to death, in full view of the world’s media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few meters inside the Soviet sector. East German border guards were reluctant to approach him for fear of provoking Western soldiers, one of whom had shot an East German border guard just days earlier. More than an hour later, Fechter’s body was removed by the East German guards. A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint, protesting the action of the East and the inaction of the West.

A few days later, the crowd stoned Soviet buses driving towards the Soviet War Memorial, located in the Tiergarten in the British sector; the Soviets tried to escort the buses with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). Thereafter, the Soviets were only allowed to cross via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were prohibited from bringing APCs. Western units were deployed in the middle of the night in early September with live armaments and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban.














 BERLIN, Aug. the 12th — Seventeen years after German reunification, archivists have found the first   written proof that East German border guards had been ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape 

 to West Germany, including women and children. 


east germany opens berlin wall
Peter Fechter was an eighteen-year-old who wanted nothing more than to taste the sweet air of West Germany.
barbed wire soldier and child berlin wall
Germany Berlin Wall Border Guards
berlin then and now 1936 2013
A part of the Berlin wall, depicting Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honeker
Berlin 1989dfghhjjkl.jpg

 The material on this site does not necessarily reflect the views of What If? Tees. 

 The Images and Text are not meant to offend but to Promote Positive Open Debate and Free Speech. 

 The material on this site does not reflect the views of What If? Tees. 

 The Images and Text are not meant to offend but to Promote Positive Open Debate and Free Speech. 

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