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Stellar Stuttgart

So there has been no blog post for two whole weeks. Lately Christmas prep has got in the way, but before that I was in Stuttgart. Naturally this means that this week’s blog post is all about Stuttgart. So sit down comfortably and prepare to hear about a city that has a car obsession and a pig museum.

In the past couple of months, I’ve found myself missing Germany. I lived out there for 9 months (which you can read all about here) and although I enjoyed it, I was very happy to be back in the UK by the end of it. So the fact that I was missing Germany was somewhat of a shock. I also found myself craving German Christmas markets. The Birmingham one is good but it’s just not the same.

As luck would have it, I have a friend out in Stuttgart, doing their year abroad. Helen’s great, I was missing Germany and Christmas markets open in December. Perfect combination of excuses to go gallivanting off to Stuttgart for four days at the start of December.

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Look at Helen being excited about a mmetre of chocolate

My flight was at 7.10, which meant I got up at the hellishly early time of 4am. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I was so tired that I forgot tea was hot. I FORGOT TEA WAS HOT. That’s like forgetting the sky is blue, guys. But, sleep deprived though I was, I made it to Stuttgart for 10am. With a hotel room that I couldn’t get into until 3pm. Such planning ahead.

In the end, I went to my hotel anyway, and beginning in German, asked if I could leave my suitcase there until the room was ready. They said sure, no problem, and asked me my name. And promptly switched back into English.

I know this may come as a shock, but after 9 months in Germany, I can speak German. My grammar can be shaky and my vocab has diminished somewhat, but I can speak German. And as it turned out the receptionist’s English wasn’t as great as you would have thought. But no matter. I left my suitcase and went to explore Stuttgart.

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So pretty.

It’s a decent looking city. Looks like most German cities, so it’s nice but not beautiful. As cities tend to be. I wandered down what I later found out is the most popular shopping street in Germany. And yes, I ended up being part of that statistic.

Laden down with new clothes, I wandered round a pool that’s in the heart of Stuttgart before beginning to wander back to the hotel. Earlier I’d seen a few stalls of a Christmas market and been disappointed in how small it was. Oh how wrong I was. It turned out that the Christmas market went on for miles and so it was through there that I made my way home.

German Christmas markets are great. It’s difficult to explain what it is about them, and I think it’s a combination of the atmosphere and just how much food and drink there is. And that’s before you even get to the knick-knacks, ornaments and all the other stuff that is sold there.

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I ❤ German markets

So eventually I ended up back at my hotel, where I fell asleep because I’d been up at 4. And then about ten minutes before Helen was due to meet me, I woke up. You’d think that would be an issue, but seeing as I told Helen the wrong hotel, it wasn’t actually a problem. (I’d like to clarify that I accidentally told her the wrong hotel. I am not that cruel.)

When Helen and I had finally found each other, we went to the Christmas market to thoroughly explore and sample the Glühwein. It was an excellent night but I was back at my hotel by 9 and asleep by 10, because, as I believe I have mentioned once or twice, I had been up at 4 am.

The next day I headed back to Königstrasse to do some much needed shopping in the shops that I missed most from Germany (New Yorker, why do you not sell online? Why?). And then, because I felt like I needed to be at least a little bit cultural, I went to the Art Museum.

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Can’t ignore an exhibition called I Got Rhythm

They had a jazz in art exhibition on, which was great. But the coolest thing about it was that the audio guide played you songs that had inspired various paintings in the exhibition. Looking at art, listening to jazz – nothing could be better. Well, except for the part where I had to explain to an elderly couple how to use the audio guide auf Deutsch. That was kind of stressful.

Culture successfully absorbed, I wandered back through the Christmas market to my hotel (yes, this happened an awful lot) and then, after watching How I Met Your Mother in German, I met up with Helen to go to a concert.

We were seeing Parov Stelar supported by Eugene the Cat. It was a really great gig and we nearly missed the last train because we were buying merch. Hopefully there’ll be a full blog post dedicated to that evening soon.

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Give me a gig with  a brass section any day.

On the Saturday, we met at a reasonable time because we were going to Tübingen. Tübingen is about an hour from Stuttgart, is very pretty, but most importantly, has a chocolate festival in the first week of December.

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So pretty.

There was so much chocolate. From artisan truffles to chocolate sculptures to metre long cases of Ritter Sport, it was amazing. I bought a chocolate that looked like a conker, because it looked so much like a conker. And it was super delicious.

After we’d successfully chocolated ourselves out, we returned to Stuttgart for the evening. We ate at a burger place that gave us free satsumas when we left, and then we headed back to the Christmas market. Because where else would you go on a Saturday evening in a thriving German city?

Sunday was a very chilled day, because of the Glühwein from the night before and because I was leaving in the evening. So we went to the pig museum. It has over 50 000 pig figurines, divided into different categorgies like “The Divine Pig” or “Pigs around the World” or “Fictional Pigs”. It is an odd experience and well worth the five euros entry, just for the bizarre factor.

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This pig shaped tram was terrifying. 

I had a really great time in Stuttgart, which, it has to be said, is mostly down to Helen and the fact that I am very happy exploring Germany by myself while my friends are at work. I didn’t make it to the Porsche museum but seeing as everything was sponsored by either Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, including the art gallery and exhibits, and the fact that every tenth car was a Porsche or Mercedes, I feel like I got my monies worth from the city of cars.

Stuttgart’s not am obvious tourist destination, but the Christmas market was fabulous. The city itself is headed towards hipsterdom, though it’s got a ways to go before it can rival Dresden. But I enjoyed it. And managed to understand the local dialect, so result.

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The Next Together, Lauren and Me

As is fairly common knowledge seeing as this blog started life as a year abroad blog, I spent 9 months in Germany. And being in the middle of pretty much nowhere, working only 12 hours a week, leaves a lot of down time. Which meant when a friend offered to send me her novel, I was quick to accept.

And how glad I am that I did. Lauren sent me a Word doc of what was then called The Red Earth Rolls. It had been accepted by a publisher and the long process of making it into a real, live book had begun. So I settled down after work and got stuck in.

I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop. About Matthew and Katherine, the book was immensely clever in weaving together three different timelines where these two characters meet in different lives. It’s a love story and yet somehow, I didn’t want to throw it across the room. I love YA novels but recently I can’t deal with their tales all consuming love. Thankfully, in addition to being a stomachable love story (technically three different love stories), it also has sci fi elements and strands of historical novel. I genuinely loved it.

It’s now nearly two years since I sat in my room in Germany, unmoving for hours, fascinated by Matthew and Katherine. Which means The Red Earth Rolls has gone through some changes. Like the fact that it’s now called The Next Together. And that it’s now out in bookshops.

'The Next Together' by Lauren James

I really love the cover. It’s so great.

Lauren was lovely enough to invite me to the launch party, and so last Friday after work, I scuttled off to Leamington Spa to enjoy book themed cakes, free wine and of course, to get to congratulate Lauren.

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Cupcakes with toppings inspired by the book and it’s cover – so cool!

Held in a Waterstones, it was bound to be great and it was. In the general milling about and mingling, I bumped into a friend from university and Katie Everson, author of Drop, who was the most lovely. After a speech from Lauren’s editor, it was Lauren’s turn and she decided to read out her acknowledgements from her novel, which worked really well. And what was very cool, was there was a guest book. Literally a copy of The Next Together for the guests to write in.

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Such a clever idea.

Afterwards, she had to get busy with a Sharpie as everyone wanted to get a signed copy. My copy of The Next Together had turned up the day before, which those of you who follow me on social media may have seen, and so I got Lauren to sign that. It’s got pride of place on my bookshelf.

Eventually, I had to go, and that was the end of my first book launch. I’m hoping there will be more in my future. But travelling home, I was so thrilled to finally have a copy of The Next Together, all these months later.

If you’re interested in my review of The Next Together, you’ll want to look here. Or if you want to find Lauren on social media and tell her how much you love her book or how much I won’t shut up about it, you can find her on Twitter here or Tumblr here.

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Things I wish I’d known: Year Abroad edition

Even as my time at university comes to an end, I still have friends who have yet to reach their final years. And some of those people have year abroads to go on (Hi Helen). Leading up to a year abroad is scary, because moving to a foreign country will always be at least a little terrifying, and so I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known before my year abroad.

1. Your language skills need work.

Moving to Germany showed me how lacking my language skills could be. Most notably in the first week I was in Ilmenau, trying to buy a sim card became a huge production because I didn’t know the word for account and the woman at the shop didn’t speak any English.

But it’s okay. You’re not meant to be great at your language yet. That’s why you’re doing a year abroad. You’ll muddle through, with half learnt words and charades and a lack of every day vocab, and a few weeks/a month/two months in you’ll realise you can actually speak the language, and have been for a while. It’s all going to be okay.

2. You’ll be exhausted.

Having to speak your second language all the time is really tiring. Between trying to remember vocab and grammar and then pronunciation and then understanding replies, you’re probably going to be knackered for a while. Don’t worry. Sleep and it’ll be fine.

3. Things take time.

Getting used to the new country, making friends, not being bone tired at the end of every day – everything’ll happen. But it takes time. Which I think is the most parent-y thing I’ve ever said. But it’s true.

4. Cultures are different.

I didn’t think Germany would be that different to home. It’s a western European country after all, only separated from Britain by France and the English Channel. And while in broad strokes it wasn’t that different, it was the details that tripped me up. I found myself missing Sunday opening times for shops, for crying out loud. Be prepared for ridiculous things to be different.

5. It doesn’t have to be the best year of your life.

My university, like many other universities I assume, get enthusiastic fourth years to talk to second years about their year abroad, and the phrase “It was the best year of my life” gets bandied around like there’s no tomorrow.

Your year abroad does not have to be the best year of your life. If it is, that’s awesome – I’m really happy for you. But if it’s not, that’s legitimate too. You don’t have to come back for your final year and be that fourth year who talks about their year abroad for half an hour.

I feel like maybe my advice has painted a bleaker image of a year abroad than I intended to. They’re great, I really enjoyed mine. But sometimes I think all the “it’s the best year of your life” marketing makes people forget that it’s still real life. And nothing is ever perfect all the time.

If you’re heading off on a year abroad, I hope you have an amazing time, whether or not it’s the best year ever. If you want to read about my misadventures in the middle of Germany, they’re all Year Abroad posts in reverse order. And if you have anything you wish you’d known before your year abroad or questions, or you just want to say ‘hi, I go to Spain in September and I’m scared. Will everything be okay’, leave a comment. And yes, everything will be okay.

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To graduate will be an awfully big adventure.

This time four years ago, I think I was still doing my A-levels. And then there was to be a long summer of friends and holidays and then, then there would be results day. After that, as long as I’d reached Nottingham’s requirements, I’d be off to university in September.

I’ve been trying to think back to remember how I felt, which is difficult. Not only was it four years ago, but my Mom was seriously ill, which took precedent over what I was going to get in my A-levels. I mean, I must have been excited. Since I was about 15, all I wanted was to go to university. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’d watched too many films, read too many books, but my heart was set on university.

Originally I was going to do English Literature. Then it was German and English Lit. And by the time AS level English Lit had finished bashing me over the head, I knew I didn’t want to spend three years at university studying it. So German it was. I made lists of universities. Compared them by what grades they wanted, how far away from home they were, even if I’d ever been to the city they were in. I was excited. Anxious to leave home, be an adult, learn something about Germany that wasn’t just the language.

And now it’s all over. My four years are at an end. It’s very anti-climatic. No-one warned me about that. My last lectures were exam prep that basically no-one turned up for. My last exam was a translation exam, so it involved lots of vocab learning but no heavy duty, practice essay writing, notecards filled with dates type revision. If I can paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way uni ends. Not with a bang but a …huh.

University has been pretty great. I’ve learnt to cook, to motivate myself, to actually clean a house. I’ve learnt how to play Quidditch and how to swing dance. I’ve made friends and lived abroad for 9 months. I’m even basically fluent in German. And while I still ended up studying some literature, I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. Except Brecht. I do not understand Brecht.

Now what? It’s a time for making plans and moving forward with life. Which is terrifying. I mean, I like moving forward, I like the fact that in theory the world is open for me to do whatever I want. But the job hunt is not going spectacularly well, I have no idea where I’m going to be in a month, two month, three months time, and I’m not really sure what I’m doing with my life.

But I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m scared, yes, but that’s not going to stop life happening. So I just have to get on with it. And if I can move by myself to Germany to a town so in the middle of nowhere that even Google street view hasn’t made it there yet, I’m sure I can cope with whatever is about to happen. So graduation is an awfully big adventure, but unlike Peter Pan, I’m ready to grow up.

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Punctuation: Ridiculous and Magic.

My grandma got a new phone this week. Thankfully she’s fairly tech savvy, so don’t worry – I’m not about to regale you with tales of being IT support for older relatives. But she was texting me and every text ended with ?? Which meant I was reading everything as very questioning. Particularly when texts were just ‘ok??’.

It turns out my phone couldn’t cope with the emoticons she was trying to send me. But it got me thinking about punctuation and how ridiculous it is that. I can? Add some symbols! And you’ll read – the sentence completely…differently in your head.

With the rise of internet communication and social media, we are constantly using written (or typed) language, and punctuation is hugely important to that. Whereas when you speak you automatically do the pauses and intonation and whatnot, that’s not how it works in written communication. It’s how I can write:

I’m fine.

I’m fine!

I’m…fine.

And while all three have the same two words in them, you know (mostly) exactly how they’re being “said” and thus the meaning behind them. What makes this even more ridiculous is that some of you reading this blog have never heard me speak. Not even once. And yet, you can still infer meaning and tone from the words I use, in part due to the punctuation I use.

What’s the most ridiculous thing about punctuation is that sometimes we use it to make pictures to represent out emotions/attitude/facial features to make up for the lack of face to face contact inherent in written communication. Yes, I’m talking about emoticons.

Emoticons are nothing new. People have drawn pictures in letters since the first time someone put writing instrument to durable surface. But now that we use computers (and yes, I’m including phones in this) we have a key board and our options are more limited. So we make pictures out of punctuation – or at least we did before the makers of our methods-of-communication clocked this and gave us pictures to choose from. The first emoticons, as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, were 🙂 and 😦 and the variations thereupon. [EDIT: So WordPress automatically changed colon end bracket and colon open bracket to pictures. I told you they’re onto the emoticon use :P]

What is so fascinating about emoticons is that you can use them to mean a ridiculous amount of things. And these uses aren’t necessarily universal. Take the winky face for example  😉

I have a friend who uses it to denote sarcasm, my cousin uses it when she’s teasing me, I’ve met people who use it to indicate flirting… And then in Germany, it’s just the standard smiley face. Which was very weird when I first moved out there. I thought everyone was either being sarcastic or flirting which was just….so confusing.

What I’m trying to say in this blog post, is that punctuation and the way that it influences how we read written communication is ridiculous and amazing. Punctuation has always been used to indicate tone, and while that in itself is interesting, the way we can use it to reflect emotions and attitudes as well is just…It makes my head spin. Ain’t linguistics great?  😀

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Welcome to the Future

Happy New Year! If you celebrate by the Gregorian Calendar, obvs. 2015 is the year of hoverboards and Jaws 19 and ridiculous fashion, if Back to the Future 2 can be believed. Which surely it can be, as Marty McFly would never lie to us.

I celebrated the New Year with friends and many games of Articulate, which has thus far set the tone for my 2015. Unfortunately, tomorrow means I have to return to essays because university is still a thing and deadlines are looming.

But before that, I figured I might take a look back at 2014. Because what else are you meant to do in your first blog post of the new year? Happily, I have a whole blog of stuff to help me remember what happened in 2014.

I guess the most important thing about 2014 is that for six months of it I was living and working in Germany. Which was an interesting introduction to the real world, but hey, it’s not so bad. Makes me look forward to when I graduate.

Travelling wise I did more than I’ve ever done before. Budapest, Warsaw, Belgium. A dozen or so places in Germany, not to mention London and Norwich over summer. You can find my opinions on the European places on this blog if you have a search. London and Norwich missed out on a blog post. Whoops.

I had my first real job and then started back at university. Fourth year sucks. Well, the amount of work sucks. Some of modules are actually pretty great, and I love my house (except for the mould and the washing up). I picked up swing dance again, which is ridiculous amounts of fun, and my appreciation of Quidditch, though changed, still exists because, damn IQA players go hard.

The highlight of the year has to be seeing Eddie Izzard in Berlin. (See here for more details) But that doesn’t diminish how great other parts were, like exploring Shoreditch with my best friends and my 21st birthday.

2014 was a very busy year, and it was mostly good, which I feel is the most that can be expected from a whole 365 days. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I’ll never keep them, but I do have hopes for the rest of 2015. They’re mostly fairly grown up things, like I hope I graduate, I hope I get a job, I hope I find somewhere to live. It’s all boring but important things.

So after starting this year with a fairly sedate blog post, I hope your 2014 was mostly good and that your 2015 is as well.

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Great European Adventure: Part Eins – Berlin

Fair warning: this blog post has many pictures and few words. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, so…

 If you can cast your minds back to four months ago, I was leaving Ilmenau. And can you remember why? Don’t stress if you can’t. Seems harsh to spring a quiz on you when I went AWOL. And some of you are new. So to recap, I was leaving Ilmenau because my contract with the school (I was doing a teaching assistantship on my year abroad – check out these posts for details) was up and I was doing some travelling before headed back to Blighty.

So Berlin. I left Ilmenau super excited because in Berlin Maddie awaited me. You remember Maddie, right? She came over to see me way back in the autumn and we hit up Prague  and I haven’t shut up about Prague since. Also, you know. Berlin’s one of my favourite places.

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Maddie’s the fabulous blonde. 

With Berlin and one of my best friends awaiting, is it any wonder I was excited? So excited in fact that when I got to Berlin and had to use the S-bahn, it took me two stops before I realised I’d managed to use the ticket machine in German without any issues. Result. Year abroad really works, guys.

In Alexander Platz I met Maddie and she guided me to the hostel we were staying in, whose name totally escapes me at the moment. (Maddie has informed it was called One80). It was a decent hostel, the guys on reception were super lovely and it wasn’t a *ridiculous* distance from an s-bahn stop. What more could you want?

20140602_165104The global clock in Alexanderplatz. You can play guess where the tourist is from by which section they take a photo of.

The first afternoon I made Maddie do a huge walking tour of the places I’ve been in Berlin, for which I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. We went down Unter den Linden, to the Reichstag, past the Holocaust memorial, through Potsdamer Platz, past part of the Berlin wall, via a Fotomat to Checkpoint Charlie. Seriously, I made her walk so far. I am a terrible person. I mean, we were both shattered anyway from travelling and then I made us exercise. A truly terrible person.

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And we walked past Trabi World.

The second day we headed over to Kreuzberg for brunch. Now Kreuzberg was described to me at various points and by various sources as ‘the place to be’, ‘the root of all hipsters’ and ‘up and coming but not quite there yet’. It was only about 10am when we got there but it was dead. Last time I was in a place so empty I was in the business district of London on Palm Sunday.

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All found in Kreuzberg.

After walking down several heavily graffitied streets, we ended up at Nest, a place that The Guardian recommended for brunch in Kreuzberg. Yes, we’re super cool.

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Brunch of champions.

Brunch at Nest was delicious. Seriously, it was so good. You should go. Afterwards, in somewhat of a food coma, we wandered through Kreuzberg, taking photos of the graffiti and wondering how anyone can afford to buy things in the hipster shops.  We then crossed the river and walked up the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that acts an art gallery. Many of the paintings are reproductions of graffiti that was on the Berlin Wall while it still divided the city. It’s really interesting, though I need to say, it is long. It was way longer than we expected.


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Yay Graffitii

After finding a S-bahn stop because we were exhausted from walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we ended up at a huge arts and crafts shop, whose name I have completely forgotten. We spent a good couple of hours walking round it, looking at all the expensive paper and fabric that we wanted but could neither afford nor fit in our suitcases.  And then at some point we must have headed out for dinner, and I can say with 90% certainty that we had beer, because we had beer with almost every meal.

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My favourite piece of graffitti we saw. Represents reunification of Berlin.

The next day we went to Kreuzberg for brunch again, because we are the coolest people you’ll ever read about in a blog. This time it was at a place called Salon Schmück and although good, it wasn’t as good as Nest.

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I like eggy bread. I like bacon. I kinda like maple syrup. All three together is a bit much though.

Afterwards we headed up to the Natural History Museum because I’d been wanting to see dinosaur bones since January. Like I said, I’m a cool kid. The Berlin Natural History Museum is currently undergoing massive renovations. However, they still have dinosaurs, they still have moon rock and the biggest wet collection of specimens in the world. That mean stuff kept in jars of ammonia, not in, like, a swimming pool or anything. Just so you know.

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DINOSAURS!

In the dinosaur exhibit they had binoculars that, when you focused on the dinosaur skeletons, filled in the organs, the skin and then what their habitat would have looked like. And then the dinosaurs moved. And it was one of the best things ever.  Then we wandered into an audio visual description of how the universe came into being and how it’ll probably end. And that sounds lame, but you got to lie back on a round sofa and watch it above you and that was awesome.

When you carried on round, there was a massive exhibition on birds, including what a T-rex would look like with feathers. Which is still one of my favourite things. And then in the shop I bought a stuffed toy bison. Because as I have previously mentioned bison are my new favourite animals. And Heinrich is the cuddliest stuffed toy bison to ever exist.

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It looks like a colourful chicken. Jurassic Park would be very different. 

We headed out for tea at some point, again with the beer, and then I, tipsily, decided we needed a selfie with the Brandenburg Gate. This lead to me getting very confused about the Berlin public transport system and selfies of this calibre:

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That’s the symbol of victory sticking out the op of my head. 

Which was a pretty great end to part one of my Great European Adventure. Because the day after I got up at an early time to brave the S-bahn alone, heading to the main station to get on a train to Warsaw alone.

I do love Berlin.  And getting to go with Maddie was awesome, even if she wasn’t so keen on the city. But I have to say the best part was Heinrich. Because cuddly bison are the best.

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Heinrich giving his best duck face.