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WEBMU 2014: Nürnberg

Every year, a group of ex-pat bloggers living in Germany gather for a weekend of fun, tourism, food, and drink.  This gathering is called WEBMU – the Whiny Expatriate Bloggers Meet-Up.  The location is different each year-  in 2012 the gathering was in Berlin.  In 2013, the group gathered in Prague, but I didn’t make it to that one.  This year, we met in Nuremberg roughly halfway through the month of September.

The attendees were:

A WEBMU weekend typically runs Friday through Sunday, with the early arrivals taking a day trip to an alternate location in the daytime in Friday.  This WEBMU was no exception, and we met up at 10am to visit scenic and moist Bamberg.  Most of the pictures I took in Bamberg are similar to the pictures I took the first time I visited Bamberg, so I’m not going to include too many of those here.  If you’re curious, you can look at the previous Bamberg post.  (Also, it was raining all day, so many of my new photos have rain drops on the lens.  I really need to get a lens hood.)

One of the first things we saw in Bamberg was this randomly placed elephant.  We’re all pretty sure it’s an advertisement, but it was still random enough to warrant a photograph.

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We went to the Altes Rathaus, and to the local cathedral to look again at the Bamberg Rider.

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We were in Bamberg on the same day that there was a party for the closing of U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg, so we stumbled across the Burrito Bandito.  It was a little strange seeing US Army guys in fatigues while out and about in Germany.

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While waiting for the train back to Nuremberg, we were witness to the Hochzeit of two smaller trains.  The coupling is almost entirely automatic for this type of train, so it was kind of fascinating to watch.  We were all mesmerized, to the great amusement of the conductor from the train on the left.

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Fast forward to Saturday, and we started the day with a small city tour… in the rain.

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Here’s the tour route, just for fun:

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This is one of the two brass rings embedded into the wrought iron-work in Schöner Brunnen, a rather nifty fountain in the city’s main market square near the town hall.  It is said that spinning the brass ring will bring you luck.  The fountain itself is a reproduction; the original lives in the city’s historical museum.

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It’s rather amazing to me that I’ve been in Germany for this long and I didn’t manage to get a picture with a section of the original Berlin Wall until this trip.  Here it is.

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Albrecht Dürer is kind of a big deal in Nuremberg.  His house is near this statue.

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One of Dürer’s most celebrated creations is this creepy-ass rabbit.  The dude with the pink umbrella just makes it so much more surreal, don’t you think?

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This store’s sign caught my eye because it’s a rather nifty play on words.  Bohne & Kleid in German is “Bean and Dress,” but it sounds quite a bit like “Bonnie and Clyde.”  It made me giggle.

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One of the nifty things about Nuremberg is that a large portion of the old city wall is still intact like this section on the right.

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A bunch of these old cities have St. George and the Dragon themed stuff floating around.  It’s all very Trogdor-oriented.

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Nuremberg also has a reasonably well preserved castle, part of which is pictured here.

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Big castles have big doors.

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Here’s the requisite view of the city from the castle’s ramparts.

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Later in the day, Cliff and I ventured in to the Deutsche Bahn Museum, a place I had wanted to visit for quite a while.  It had some fantastic vintage carriages.

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An old rail-running bicycle looking thing was on display.  This reminds me a little bit of the scene from Blazing Saddles with the quick-sand.

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What would a train museum be without incredibly detailed models?

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The DB Museum had a ton of great photographs up showing the construction of the railways and bridges.  Most of those pictures didn’t come out well enough to post, but this will give you an idea of how amazing and fascinating the historical photographs were.

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Any good train museum would also cover that uncomfortable part of Germany’s history where the railways were part of the World War II experience.  Here’s a train conductor’s uniform from that era.

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The best part of the exhibit was the various trains  set up along the outer edges of the museum.  Here’s a mostly-plastic model of an ICE train.  You couldn’t even sit down inside.  The real thing is much nicer.

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Apparently, 6th class train rides involved standing up in a giant rectangular train carriage with no roof.  Still beats walking, I guess.

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Compare that last one to first class, which has velvet seats and a nice terrace from which you can have champagne toasts.

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Speaking of first class, the Prince’s carriages were present in the museum.  They’re very fancy.

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The Prince’s carriage had a green room that Cliff thought was amazing.

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I was more partial to the blue room in the Prince’s carriage.   What can I say? I like blue!

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There were also some massive old steamers in the museum.

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When I say massive, I mean massive.  These wheels were nearly as tall as I am.

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…and you can step up into some of them for hammy moments.  Here’s Cliff, waving hello from the conductor’s window.

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Have you ever been to the DB Museum?  Have you visited Bamberg or Nuremberg?

I didn’t know that was German!

There are a number of companies that I’ve known my entire life, without realizing that it started here and not in the US.   I knew that BMW, Mercedes, and Audi were all German companies.   I was clear that Bayer (the pharmaceutical company) was from Germany.  But there are a bunch of European names that surprised me.

Red Bull is an Austrian company.  The tiny Smart car was a joint venture between Swatch and Mercedes.  There are two that really surprised me, though.

Adidas and Puma:    Adolph “Adi” Dassler and his brother, Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler founded Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in the 1920s.   They split in 1947, and Rudolf created a competing shoe company, called Ruda at first, and later renamed to Puma.  In 1949, Adi renamed his company to Adidas.

I spent my high school years thinking that the name Adidas was an acronym for “All day I dream about sports,” but it’s really named for the founder.  Adi Dassler.  As a result, I’ve always mispronounced the name.  I was pronouncing this ah-deed-ahs, but that’s wrong.  The emphasis  is on the first and third syllables, not the middle syllable:  Ah-dee-das. 

Haribo, the company that made the first Gummibärchen, or Gummy Bears, is from Bonn, Germany.  I thought Haribo was a Japanese company, but it was founded in 1920 by Hans Riegel, Sr.   The name of the company is a portmanteau:   Hans Riegel, Bonn.

Are there any companies with origins that have surprised you?

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Cairo

For my last trip outside of Germany before I move back to the US, I chose Cairo.  I have a very long list of places that I still want to go and see, but the pyramids have long been near the top of my “gotta see that!” list.  Egypt has had a rough time with their tourism industry since the revolution a few years ago, so I took advantage of the amazing prices and set up the trip to my 26th country.

Between the hits to Egypt’s tourism, the fact that July and August are the low season there and the exchange rate in my favor, everything was very affordable.    I booked four nights at a luxury hotel with a balcony overlooking the Nile river for about $750 US dollars, and booked tours of the pyramids and whatnot before I set out.

Arriving to the Cairo airport is somewhat chaotic.  If you’re a US citizen visiting just to be a tourist, you have to pay $25 in US dollars for the entry visa that they stick in your passport.

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I’m glad that I chose to book the tours with hotel pick-up, because it turns out that navigating Cairo woud have been extraordinarily difficult for me.  For one thing, the Metro stations at Tahrir Square and Giza are both closed and have been for quite some time due to the revolution.   For another thing, I don’t speak Arabic.  I also can’t read the Arabic numerals that are displayed on signs there.  The first time I saw an Egyptian license plate, I thought it was hand-written.  Then I saw a dozen more and I realized this is just how they look.

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Traffic in Cairo is absolutely insane.   The white lines on the highway are seen as a casual suggestion, and drivers weave in and out of each other’s lanes with abandon.  The drivers use their car horns constantly, almost like a form of echolocation, like bats in flight.  The car signals told other drivers where they were at all times.

People on foot cross the road- even the highways- without a care for the cars that are moving past.  People stop in the right-most lanes and get out of their cars.  There’s rubble on the outer edges of the highways, and random smoldering piles of rock that might have been fires a while before I got there.

I’ve never seen anything like it.  Here’s a YouTube video that showcases it pretty well, I think.  For more, just search YouTube for “Cairo traffic.”  It’s absolutely amazing.

Once I was checked into the hotel, I had about two hours to try to shake off my usual travel headache before I was picked up again for my first event.  I took some time to thoroughly enjoy the view from my balcony overlooking the Nile.  After dark, the Nile river comes alive with activity-  neon trimmed party boats, loud music, and street vendors are everywhere.

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My first touristy event was a Nile river dinner cruise, with entertainment.  The food was very good.  I liked the sea bass quite a lot.

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The entertainment was a band, then a Tannoura dance show, then a bellydancer.  The Tannoura is vaguely related to the Sufi Whirling Dervishes, and the man never stopped spinning.  Here’s a short clip of the show.

The next morning, I woke up early for my tour of the Giza Necropolis, including the pyramids and the Sphinx.    I also took a quick daytime picture from my balcony.    That tower in the left third of the picture is Cairo Tower, which has an observation deck at the top and a revolving restaurant just below that.  I’ll come back to that later in the post.

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I ganked this map of the Giza Necropolis from Wikipedia, because it shows a lot of important detail.  The first thing that I didn’t realize before this trip is that there are more pyramids in Giza than the three big ones that everyone notices.  If you look carefully, there’s three smaller ones next to the Pyramid of Khufu, which is referred to as the Great Pyramid.  There’s also another three smaller pyramids next to the Pyramid of Menkaure, and several other smaller pyramids in the Necropolis.  There are 138 known pyramids throughout Egypt, and a whole bunch of them are right there in Giza.

Also, each of the three largest pyramids is connected to a temple by a causeway.  One of these is still intact today and is visible to the naked eye.  The others are a little harder to spot.

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Here’s the Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu.  This is the largest of the three on the Giza plateau.  The Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889.

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On arrival, I sat with my guide Khaled for a few minutes at the base of the Great Pyramid while he discussed the construction and history of the pyramids with me.  This picture is looking straight up the North face of the Great Pyramid.

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This photograph is looking back at the city of Giza from the base of the Great Pyramid.    Giza comes very, very close to the pyramids on one side.  The other side is the start of thousands of miles of Sahara Desert.

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The Pyramid of Khafre is the only one of the pyramids in Giza to still retain a portion of its limestone casing.  Supposedly, all three of the big pyramids were at one time fully covered in this polished limestone, with gold capstones.    That must have been quite a sight.

Khafre also looks larger than Khufu to the naked eye, but that’s because it’s on a higher elevation.  It is actually smaller in both height and width.

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I had the chance to descend into the burial chamber of one of the smaller pyramids next to Khufu.  The attendants were happy to take my picture as I climbed back up.  They’ve mounted handrails into the tunnel because the pathway down is not steps; it’s a ridged wooden plank to give you traction as you climb or descend.    This photograph is only moments before I whanged my head coming out of the entrance:  The Curse of the Pharaohs takes many forms.

You can choose to go into the Great Pyramid, but it’s another 200 Egyptian Pounds (about $30) and I decided that one musty burial chamber was enough for me.

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Khaled took me into one of the smaller structures near the pyramids- this was a small structure supposedly built for one of the architects of the pyramids.  Here, Khaled is pointing out the cartouches-  the symbols inside the oval with a crossbar on the left side.

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Each cartouche is the name of someone royal.  In most cases, it refers to those who are buried inside the pyramids.  I do not recall which was which here.

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Khaled made me do traditional silly tourist pictures with the pyramids, but I steadfastly refused to do a jumping picture.  I’m not a fan of pictures of people jumping in front of landmarks.

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One of my options was a camel ride from behind the Pyramid of Menkaure around the outer edge of the Necropolis to the Sphinx.    I’d never been on a camel before, so I was game.  My thoughts are as follows:  1) It’s a damn good thing I brought sunscreen, because this was actually a camel ride in the desert.  2) Camels are not a smooth ride.  It takes a little while to get used to the rhythm.

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I think this is how camels say hello.

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One of the advantages of taking the camel ride was that I got a really phenomenal view of all the pyramids lined up.   This photograph contains nine pyramids.

From this perspective, the Pyramids of Queens are the three small ones in front, with Menkaure right behind them.  The Pyramid of Khafre is next to the right, and the Pyramid of Khufu is just to the right of that one.  You can also make out three of the smaller pyramids to the right of Khufu.

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After about 45 minutes on camel-back, we arrived to the Sphinx.  This is the interior of the Temple of the Sphinx, with very old alabaster flooring.  Supposedly, this temple had a roof at some point.

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The Sphinx is missing forehead ornamentation, a beard, and its nose.  I’ve seen the beard in the British Museum in London.  It’s not clear what happened to the forehead ornamentation.  As for the nose, one popular theory says that it was accidentally shot off by French soldiers.  Damn you, Napoleon!

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The pyramid over the left shoulder of the Sphinx is the Great Pyramid.    The Great Pyramid is so large that I didn’t see the Sphinx at all until late in the day, despite walking around the other sides of the pyramid.

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The Giza Necropolis was the highlight of my Cairo trip, but that didn’t stop me from seeing other things.  I mentioned the Cairo Tower earlier-  this is the front entrance.

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Here’s a closer view of the entire tower.

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From the viewing platform on the top of Cairo Tower, the views are fairly spectacular.  Here’s one view along the Nile.

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Cairo is a very dense city.  It  has an estimated population of 12 million people, and when you include Giza and the remaining surrounding metropolitan area, it has a population of nearly 22 million people.  That’s roughly a fourth of the residents of the entire country.

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On a clear day, you can even see the pyramids from Cairo Tower.  On a hazy day, you can still see them- just not clearly.

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This is Tahrir Square.  It’s not really square, as far as I can tell. This is where  the most well known protests of the Egyptian revolution took place.

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This is an area of the city adjacent to Tahrir Square.  The reddish building is the Egyptian Museum.  I’m not sure what the burnt out building next to it is.

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Here’s a closer picture of that burnt out building, taken on my walk to the Egyptian Museum.   There were quite a few burnt out buildings in Cairo, signs of the struggle there over the last few years.

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When I was walking to the Egyptian Museum, I walked past four tanks and some barbed wire.  This isn’t a very good picture because I was trying not to be super obvious that I was taking a picture.  My goal here was to attract as little attention from the armed soldiers as possible.  There were a lot of armed soldiers around Cairo, and it was disconcerting.    To get into the museum, or the Cairo Tower, there were security checkpoints with metal detectors.  To get into my hotel, I had to get past the bomb sniffing dog and a metal detector.

I never really felt comfortable or safe while walking around Cairo.  I only felt safe in the touristy areas, behind  the metal detectors.

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On my third night in Cairo, I went to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show.  It was somewhat cheesy, but they used lasers on the Great Pyramid, so I liked it.   The whole thing is done from a very comfortable deck overlooking all three pyramids and the Sphinx.

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I will close this post with a picture taken from a moving car on my way out to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show-  this was taken just before sunset with an iPhone.  I rather wish I had taken the dSLR out for this part of the evening.

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Have you ever been to the Pyramids in Giza?

Last Looks

The last time I was in Hamburg, back in late March, I spent some time with Sarah and Tobias.  After lunch, they walked me back to the U-Bahn, and as we said our goodbyes, I had a flash of realization- after that moment, I might not ever see either of them again in my lifetime.

I know it seems like a negative point of view, but it’s a simple truth: In just thirty days, I will be leaving Germany. Sure, I’ll travel to Europe again in the future, but I probably won’t be in Hamburg again.

After that realization, I started noticing it in other places.   Sometimes it’s silly (will this be the last time I buy a fricking heavy six-pack of water from the Getränkemarkt?) but usually it’s a little more bittersweet.

I saw this image in one of those ridiculous Buzzfeed lists, and the sentiment is exactly what I’m talking about, even if the image they chose is terrible:

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For the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition back and about what I’m leaving behind here.  I started making these comparisons in another post a while back, but I’ve got more.

Some of it isn’t great.

  • I won’t miss riding with patient zero on the bus.  Every time the temperature drops even the tiniest amount, there’s hacking and coughing and sniffling like you would not believe.
  • I won’t miss the smokers everywhere.  Standing at the bus stop.  Walking through the city.  I can smell it from half a block away.
  • I won’t miss the crazy spin-art vomit stains on the sidewalk at the end of every weekend.  Most Germans can hold their beer, but this is a college town and Universities are where people test their limits, and then spill those limits all over the sidewalk before passing out.  Walking through the city on a Sunday morning can be a little bit like walking though a slightly squishy minefield.
  • I won’t miss the fucking cobblestone.  I haaaaate  cobblestone.  No, seriously-  cobblestone is charming when you first arrive, but it’s hell to walk on for long periods of time.    I can’t begin to count the number of times that my ankle has turned a bit on a cobblestone step.  It’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself in all this time.
  • I won’t miss the specific style of outdoor chairs that you find at beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating.  See the crossbar halfway up the back?  Those things always dig into my back.   Seriously, they’re the least comfortable seats in the universe.  How to people sit on these for hours?  Oh, right:  The beer functions as a muscle relaxant.damnchairs
  • I won’t miss the random people who seem to do nothing all day except hang out in front of the Bahnhof, or in front of the park directly opposite.  Every city I’ve visited has these people- they’re around the train station with a beer in hand.  Often, it looks like they’re sleeping there, in front of the station.  It’s such a waste-  I won’t ever understand people who don’t have the desire to go other places and do other things.
  • I won’t miss the way Germans line up for things.  At the bakery, or waiting to board a bus, or a train, there’s never a single simple line.   If you’re trying to get off of a bus, you generally have to push through the people waiting to get onto the bus because they don’t stand to one side to let people through.   Germans, by and large, are terrible  at lining up for things.    It’s usually a large cluster of people with no real sense of order.
  • I won’t miss my shower plunger.  I have a standard wood-handled rubber plunger, of the type commonly associated with toilet issues.  This particular plunger has never been used in a toilet, however.  The drain of my shower has been finicky for as long as I’ve lived here, and I keep the plunger in my shower so that whenever I find myself ankle deep in not-draining water, I can plunge the shower drain for a minute and things will even out.  This happens at least once every few weeks, and has for as long as I’ve been here.  I’ve tried the local equivalent to Drano, and I’ve tried a few other things without much success.  I won’t miss having a shower that backs up at random intervals.

But there are things I will  miss.

  • I’ll miss having a vibrant concert scene just one hour away, or three, or six.  Many of my trips have started with concert plans.  I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall in London twice now.  Many of the bands I want to see play in Berlin, or Cologne, or Hamburg.  Sometimes they even come to Munich or Nuremberg.    The concert scene is a little more dead in Florida, alas.
  • I’ll miss this view, as seen from Neupfarrplatz in the Regensburg Altstadt:
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  • I’ll miss the Deutsche Bahn.  From Regensburg, a single train will take me to Prague in four hours.  Salzburg in four hours.  Berlin in six hours.  Frankfurt in three hours.  Anywhere else in continental Europe is within reach, as long as I’ve got the time.  The trains here are fabulous.
  • I’ll miss my crazy-fast Internet.  The picture below is a photograph of my screen when I did a speed test.  I’ve never used anything this fast back in the US.  I know it’s possible, but in South Florida, it’s mostly DSL and Comcast cable broadband, and it’s nothing like the blazing fast speeds I’ve been enjoying here for the last three years.
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  • I’ll miss the dogs everywhere!  Germans take dogs with them on the bus, on the train, into restaurants, and pretty much everywhere that will allow it.  Little dogs wearing sweaters are just adorable, and they always make me smile.
  • I’ll miss the bakeries.  The bread and pastries and pretzels here are beyond compare.  Apfeltaschen and Butterbreze and Kurbis Krusti… nom nom nom.
  • I’ll miss the scalp massages that are a regular part of any haircut here, during the shampoo portion of the visit.  When you get a haircut in the states, they’ll wash your hair but they never linger  on the shampooing like they do here.  It’s really heavenly.
  • I’ll dearly miss a few very close friends.    My social life in Germany has been fairly limited, but I have made a few friends who will be part of my world in some fashion for the rest of my life.  I’ll be back to Germany to see them.

Of course, all the things that I will and won’t miss have their balance:  Things that I’m really looking forward to back in the United States.  In just thirty days, I’ll have access to some really wonderful things.

  • I’m looking forward to screens on my windows so I can open them without getting those little bugs that like my laptop screen so much.  And no more indoor mosquitoes when it’s warm!
  • I’m looking forward to electronic dishwashers.  After three years of hand-washing everything, it’ll be nice to just let the machine do it.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to having an actual in-sink disposal unit again.  I don’t have that here.  If I have something that I need to dispose of here, I have only two real options:  The trash or the toilet.  Yes, I’ve actually flushed away expired apple sauce here.
  • I’m looking forward to having a full sized kitchen again.  My refrigerator here doesn’t even come up to my waist.  The freezer is roughly the size of a shoebox.  I have roughly ten inches of counter space in the form of a drainboard.  There are four cabinets overhead for dishes and food storage alike.    It’s more of a kitchenette.
  • I’m looking forward to Golden Oreos.  And other cookies.  While Germany excels in cakes and pastries and other baked goods, they really can’t seem to figure out cookies.  With a few very limited exceptions (primarily Oreos and Subway cookies,) I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the cookies here.  I’m looking forward to that American cookie aisle in the grocery store again.
  • And while I’m on the subject of the grocery story, I’m looking forward to shopping on Sundays!  Or after 8pm, for that matter.    I’m so tired of having to do all of my grocery shopping in the two hours after work or on Saturday afternoons.  I miss the flexibility of being able to do whim-based grocery shopping at 2am on any random Thursday!
  • I’m looking forward to having a car!  Right now, when I do my grocery shopping, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in a single trip.  I miss being able to get a ton of groceries and load them into my car.   I miss being able to travel to places that are outside of public transportation range without walking or biking to get there.
  • I’m looking forward to American-style customer service.  Sometimes it can almost be a mythic challenge to get the attention of a waitress here.
  • I’m looking forward to reliable cellular signal again.  The only place I ever had weak signal in South Florida was the men’s room at work.  (And let’s face it, that’s the one place I really don’t want to take a call anyway.)  Here, on the other hand, I see my phone drop down to Edge speeds all the time-  on the way to or from work, on the train, or just walking down the street on a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m looking forward to video without significant Geo-blocking.  I can’t count the number of times a friend has posted a link to something on Ye Olde YouTubes, and I’ve clicked the link to see this little angry-maker:
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    Annoying, isn’t it?  GEMA is a music licensing entity whose sole function seems to be making Americans so angry that they want to kick puppies.  To get around it here, you need to use data redirection techniques-  either a browser plugin or a VPN.    The same thing applies to Pandora, to Netflix, to Hulu.  Even the Daily Show and the Colbert Report geo-block now, although they didn’t when I first arrived to Germany.    Geo-blocking is a pain in the butt, and I’m glad that I’ll have less of it to deal with.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to go about my day to day life without needing translation help.  I’m looking forward to being able to sign an apartment lease without someone parsing the bullet points for me.  I’m looking forward to being able to understand all my junk mail without bringing it to a friend to review.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my family! I have a three year old niece and I’m going to be back in time for her fourth birthday.  I’ve only been there for a handful of the days of her life so far, and I’m looking foward to changing that.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m looking forward to having brunches at the Moonlite Diner, lunches with my coworkers, movie dates with my favorite girl… I can’t wait to get back to my life.

This post has changed pretty drastically from where it started.  I originally intended to talk about the emotional impact of leaving a place, and I wound up just making another bulleted list.  I guess for the poignant emotional stuff, I’ll have to turn the floor over to the inimitable Peter Cincotti.  This is the song that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks, and it’s almost exactly how I feel: 

What do you look forward to the most when you go home?