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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




The Unpopular Democracy: The German Reich



Parliamentary democracy prevailed in Germany in the revolution of 1918. However, it was never completely accepted by a broad section of the population, and its existence was threatened from the start by radical political forces. The feeling of national humiliation, economic problems, and the internal weaknesses of the democracy made possible the rise of National Socialism under Adolf Hitler, who was named chancellor of the republic in 1933.


The First Years of the German Republic

Hyperinflation and attempted coups from groups from across the political spectrum kept the republic from finding peace and stability in its early years.


The German monarchy collapsed in the wake of social unrest in 1 November 1918.

1 Funeral of the victims of the November Revolution, Berlin, Jan 1918

Social Democrat 2 Friedrich Ebert took over responsibility for the government in the transitional period.

The moderate left emerged triumphant in debates at worker and soldier councils over the question of the form of government. A national assembly in Weimar drafted a democratic constitution on January 19,1919, and established a parliamentary republic with Ebert as president.

Fearing Karl Licbknecht would proclaim a socialist republic, another Social Democrat, 3 Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed the German Republic on November 11.

The radical left felt betrayed by the government due to the lack of social measures.

The military suppressed 4 revolts and voluntary military groups, known as Freikorps ("Free Corps"), made up of soldiers returning from the war, terrorized the country.

Officers of the Freikorps murdered Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the leaders of the German Communist party.

The right wing considered the government, which had signed the "dishonorable treaty of Versailles" to be agents of the French state—"fulfillment politicians". The signatory of the armistice, Matthias Erzberger, was murdered by right-wing extremists.

2 Friedrich Ebert, ca. 1918

3 Philipp Scheidemann talks to
the people, reconstructed picture,

4 Government troops during the general
strike in Berlin, March 3-12,1919


6 Distribution of flyers during the
Kapp Putsch, March 1920, in Berlin

The 6 monarchist Kapp Putsch in 1920 and Hitler's 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, were crushed.

The finances of the German Reich were catastrophic; the war had consumed vast sums and the victorious powers demanded reparations. To avoid bankruptcy, more money was printed and 5 inflation skyrocketed. In October 1923, a US dollar cost 40 billion reichsmarks.

5 Banknote of the German Reichsbank,
November 15, 1923



The Hitler Beer Hall Putsch 1923

Adolf Hitler, who was previously unknown, attempted to establish a right-wing dictatorship in Germany with a "March on the Feldherrnhalle" (Bavarian War Ministry) in Munich on November 9,1923.

While in prison following the suppression of the putsch attempt, he wrote his ideological work Mein Kampf. Hitler was released early for good behavior in 1924 and promised to seek power by legal means.

After the failed coup of the NSDAP: the accused; in the middle the main initiators Kriebel, Ludendorff and Hitler, Munich, February 1924

Adolf Hitler, with NSDAP members




The Fall of the Weimar Republic

After a short interim of stabilization, Hitler's National Socialists received a boost from the world economic depression. With the aid of the German National party, Hitler took over power in Germany in 1933.


The republic seemed to settle down to transient stability after 1924. The economy recovered with a new currency and the regulation of reparations payments under the Dawes Plan. Culturally, Berlin was a world leader.

Foreign Minister Stresemann pursued a path of reconciliation with Germany's neighbors, recognizing the western border with France in the 7 Locarno Treaty of 1925.

7 From left: Gustav Stresemann,
Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briand,
the Locarno Treaty, 1925.

Germany signed a friendship and neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union and was accepted into the League of Nations.

The election of the committed monarchist Paul von Hindenburg as president in 1925, however, symbolized the republic's disfavor among a wide section of the population. The world economic depression in 1929 strengthened the enemies of the state and initiated the disintegration of democracy. After the collapse of Hermann Muller's Social Democratic government in 1930, President Hindenburg named Heinrich Bruning chancellor by emergency decree, responsible solely to the president and not to the parliament.

Bruning's economic policies increased 8 mass unemployment; by the beginning of 1933 there were almost six million people out of work.

8 Unemployed workers read job listings, Berlin, 1932

Growing poverty, fear of losing social status, and the lack of prospects drove many, particularly the middle class and youths, into the hands of Adolf Hitler's radical 9 National Socialist German Workers' party (NSDAP)—the Nazi party—and presented it with an enormous increase in votes in the 1930 Reichstag election.

The anti-Semitic and nationalistic smear campaign against the system and the "November criminals" popularized the 11 " dagger thrust legend," according to which the German politicians of the revolution of 1918 had stabbed the undefeated German army in the back by signing a peace treaty with the Allies.

When in 1932 the National Socialists became the strongest party after the elections, the Center Party attempted to profit from the Nazis' mass popularity by joining them in a coalition supporting the "Enabling Act."

On January 30,1933, President 10 Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor of the National Socialist-DNVP coalition.

"In two months we will have pushed Hitler into a corner so that he squeaks," promised Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen, who was allied with the DNVP—a statement that would quickly prove to be a fatal miscalculation.

9 Election poster of the NSDAP, 1932

11 The "Stab in the Back" propaganda picture, 1924

10 Hindenburg and Hitler drive through Berlin, 1933



Nazi Party

political party, Germany
byname of National Socialist German Workers’ Party, German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP)

political party of the mass movement known as National Socialism. Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the party came to power in Germany in 1933 and governed by totalitarian methods until 1945.

It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and his energy and oratorical skills soon enabled him to take over the party. He ousted the party’s former leaders in 1920–21 and renamed it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In 1920 Hitler also formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic gambit designed to attract support from the working class.

Under Hitler the Nazi Party grew steadily in its home base of Bavaria. It organized strong-arm groups to protect its rallies and meetings. These groups drew their members from war veterans groups and paramilitary organizations and were organized under the name Sturmabteilung (SA). In 1923 Hitler and his followers felt strong enough to stage the Beer Hall Putsch, an unsuccessful attempt to take control of the Bavarian state government in the hope that it would trigger a nationwide insurrection against the Weimar Republic. The coup failed, the Nazi Party was temporarily banned, and Hitler was sent to prison for most of 1924.

Upon his release Hitler quickly set about rebuilding his moribund party, vowing to achieve power only through legal political means thereafter. The Nazi Party’s membership grew from 25,000 in 1925 to about 180,000 in 1929. Its organizational system of gauleiters (“district leaders”) spread through Germany at this time, and the party began contesting municipal, state, and federal elections with increasing frequency.

However, it was the effects of the Great Depression in Germany that brought the Nazi Party to its first real nationwide importance. The rapid rise in unemployment in 1929–30 provided millions of jobless and dissatisfied voters whom the Nazi Party exploited to its advantage. From 1929 to 1932 the party vastly increased its membership and voting strength; its vote in elections to the Reichstag (the German Parliament) increased from 800,000 votes in 1928 to about 14,000,000 votes in July 1932, and it thus emerged as the largest voting bloc in the Reichstag, with 230 members (38 percent of the total vote). By then big-business circles had begun to finance the Nazi electoral campaigns, and swelling bands of SA toughs increasingly dominated the street fighting with the communists that accompanied such campaigns.

When unemployment began to drop in Germany in late 1932, the Nazi Party’s vote also dropped, to about 12,000,000 (33 percent of the vote) in the November 1932 elections. Nevertheless, Hitler’s shrewd maneuvering behind the scenes prompted the president of the German republic, Paul von Hindenburg, to name him chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Hitler used the powers of his office to solidify the Nazis’ position in the government during the following months. The elections of March 5, 1933, gave the Nazi Party 44 percent of the votes, and further unscrupulous tactics on Hitler’s part turned the voting balance in the Reichstag in the Nazis’ favour. On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which “enabled” Hitler’s government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency; Hitler in effect assumed dictatorial powers.

On July 14, 1933, his government declared the Nazi Party to be the only political party in Germany. On the death of Hindenburg in 1934 Hitler took the titles of Führer (“Leader”), chancellor, and commander in chief of the army, and he remained leader of the Nazi Party as well. Nazi Party membership became mandatory for all higher civil servants and bureaucrats, and the gauleiters became powerful figures in the state governments. Hitler crushed the Nazi Party’s left, or socialist-oriented, wing in 1934, executing Ernst Röhm and other rebellious SA leaders at this time. Thereafter, Hitler’s word was the supreme and undisputed command in the party. The party came to control virtually all political, social, and cultural activities in Germany. Its vast and complex hierarchy was structured like a pyramid, with party-controlled mass organizations for youth, women, workers, and other groups at the bottom, party members and officials in the middle, and Hitler and his closest associates at the top wielding undisputed authority.

Upon Germany’s defeat, Hitler’s suicide, and the Allied occupation of the country in 1945 at the end of World War II, the Nazi Party was banned, and its top leaders were convicted of crimes against peace and against humanity.

There have been minor Nazi parties in other countries (such as the United States), but after 1945 Nazism as a mass movement was virtually nonexistent.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




The "Golden Twenties"

Berlin was an open-minded metropolis with a thriving art and cultural scene throughout the Weimar Republic period.

Be it the silent films of
Fritz Lang (film
"Metropolis"), German actress Brigitte Helm  in "Metropolis", the new
Expressionism in painting and poetry,

the political theater of
Bertolt Brecht, or the glamour of the entertainment industry,

personified by
Marlene Dietrich, for example—cultural life in the German capital was vibrant and drew intellectuals from all over the world.

The victory of National Socialists in Germany abruptly put an end to this creative epoch.

Metropolis, film posters



is a 1927 silent science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and Thea von Harbou. Lang and von Harbou, who were married, wrote the screenplay in 1924, and published a novelization in 1926, before the film was released. Produced in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and examines a common science fiction theme of the day: the social crisis between workers and owners in capitalism. The film stars Alfred Abel as the leader of the city, Gustav Fröhlich as his son, who tries to mediate between the elite caste and the workers, Brigitte Helm as both the pure-at-heart worker Maria and the debased robot version of her, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the mad scientist who creates the robot.

Metropolis was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G. (UFA) and released in 1927. The most expensive film of its time, it cost approximately 7 million Reichsmark to make. The film was cut substantially after its German premiere, and there have been several efforts to restore it, as well as rediscoveries of previously lost footage. The American copyright lapsed in 1953, which eventually led to a proliferation of versions being released on video.


see also: Expressionism



Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang

German director

born Dec. 5, 1890, Vienna, Austria-Hungary
died Aug. 2, 1976, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.

Austrian-born American motion-picture director whose films, dealing with fate and man’s inevitable working out of his destiny, are considered masterpieces of visual composition.

The son of an architect, Lang briefly studied architecture at Vienna’s Technical University, then travelled widely before settling for a time in Paris as a painter. While recovering from wounds suffered in the service of Austria during World War I, he started to write screenplays; after the war he went to Berlin to work with Erich Pommer, a German film producer.

His first successful picture as a director was Der müde Tod (1921; Between Worlds). Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922; Dr. Mabuse) studied a criminal mastermind; Die Nibelungen (1924; released in two parts in the United States, Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge) was based on the early 13th-century German poem; Metropolis (1926) was an Expressionist vision of the future; and M (1931), his most famous German film, explored the compulsion to murder. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1932; The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse), in which a madman speaks Nazi philosophy, attracted the attention of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ chief propagandist, who invited Lang to supervise German films. Lang left for Paris the same evening and later moved to the United States.

Fury (1936), a study of a lynch mob, is his most praised American film. Others include You Only Live Once (1937), Western Union (1941), Hangmen Also Die (1943), Scarlet Street (1945), Clash by Night (1952), Rancho Notorious (1952), Moonfleet (1955), and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Brigitte Helm



Brigitte Helm

Brigitte Helm

Brigitte Eva Gisela Schittenhelm (March 17, 1908, Berlin, Germany – June 11, 1996, Ascona, Switzerland) was a German actress, best remembered for her role as the dual role Maria and her double the Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film, Metropolis.

After Metropolis, which was her second film, Helm made over 30 other films, including talking pictures, before retiring in 1936.

Her other appearances include The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927), Alraune (1928), L'Argent (1928), Gloria (1931), The Blue Danube (1932), L'Atlantide (1932), and Gold (1934).

In 1935, angered by Nazi control of the German film industry, she moved to Switzerland where she later had 4 children with her second husband Dr. Hugo von Kuenheim, an industrialist. After her retirement from films she refused to grant any interviews concerning her film career. Helm was considered for the title role in Bride of Frankenstein before Elsa Lanchester was given the role.


Brigitte Helm


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.


see also: Marlene Dietrich-film star


Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

German-American actress
original name Marie Magdalene Dietrich, also called Marie Magdalene von Losch

born December 27, 1901, Schöneberg (now in Berlin), Germany
died May 6, 1992, Paris, France

German American motion-picture actress whose beauty, voice, aura of sophistication, and languid sensuality made her one of the world’s most glamorous film stars.

Dietrich’s father, Ludwig Dietrich, a Royal Prussian police officer, died when she was very young, and her mother remarried a cavalry officer, Edouard von Losch. Marlene, who as a girl adopted the compressed form of her first and middle names, studied at a private school and learned both English and French by age 12. As a teenager she studied to be a concert violinist, but her initiation into the nightlife of Weimar Berlin—with its cabarets and notorious demimonde—made the life of a classical musician unappealing to her. She pretended to have injured her wrist and was forced to seek other jobs acting and modeling to help make ends meet.
In 1921 Dietrich enrolled in Max Reinhardt’s Deutsche Theaterschule, and she eventually joined Reinhardt’s theatre company. In 1923 she attracted the attention of Rudolf Sieber, a casting director at UFA film studios, who began casting her in small film roles. She and Sieber married the following year, and, after the birth of their daughter, Maria, Dietrich returned to work on the stage and in films. Although they did not divorce for decades, the couple separated in 1929.

That same year, director Josef von Sternberg first laid eyes on Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola, the sultry and world-weary female lead in Der blaue Engel (1930; The Blue Angel), Germany’s first talking film. The film’s success catapulted Dietrich to stardom. Von Sternberg took her to the United States and signed her with Paramount Pictures. With von Sternberg’s help, Dietrich began to develop her legend by cultivating a femme fatale film persona in several von Sternberg vehicles that followed—Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). She showed a lighter side in Desire (1936), directed by Frank Borzage, and Destry Rides Again (1939).

During the Third Reich and despite Adolf Hitler’s personal requests, Dietrich refused to work in Germany, and her films were temporarily banned there. Renouncing Nazism (“Hitler is an idiot,” she stated in one wartime interview), Dietrich was branded a traitor in Germany; she was spat upon by Nazi supporters carrying banners that read “Go home Marlene” during her visit to Berlin in 1960. (In 2001, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, the city issued a formal apology for the incident.) Having become a U.S. citizen in 1937, she made more than 500 personal appearances before Allied troops from 1943 to 1946. She later said “America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German—German in my soul.”

After the war, Dietrich continued to make successful films, such as A Foreign Affair (1948), The Monte Carlo Story (1956), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). She was also a popular nightclub performer and gave her last stage performance in 1974. After a period of retirement from the screen, she appeared in the film Just a Gigolo (1978). The documentary film Marlene, a review of her life and career, which included a voice-over interview of the star by Maximilian Schell, was released in 1986. Her autobiography, Ich bin, Gott sei Dank, Berlinerin (“I Am, Thank God, a Berliner”; Eng. trans. Marlene), was published in 1987. Eight years after her death, a collection of her film costumes, recordings, written documents, photographs, and other personal items was put on permanent display in the Berlin Film Museum (2000).

Dietrich’s persona was carefully crafted, and her films (with few exceptions) were skillfully executed. Although her vocal range was not great, her memorable renditions of songs such as Falling in Love Again, Lili Marleen, La Vie en rose, and Give Me the Man made them classics of an era. Her many affairs with both men and women were open secrets, but rather than destroying her career they seemed to enhance it. Her adoption of trousers and other mannish clothes made her a trendsetter and helped launch an American fashion style that persisted into the 21st century. In the words of the critic Kenneth Tynan: “She has sex, but no particular gender. She has the bearing of a man; the characters she plays love power and wear trousers. Her masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality to men.” But her personal magnetism went far beyond her masterful androgynous image and her glamour; another of her admirers, the writer Ernest Hemingway, said, “If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Marlene Dietrich




Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

German dramatist
original name Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht
born Feb. 10, 1898, Augsburg, Ger.
died Aug. 14, 1956, East Berlin

German poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer whose epic theatre departed from the conventions of theatrical illusion and developed the drama as a social and ideological forum for leftist causes.

Until 1924 Brecht lived in Bavaria, where he was born, studied medicine (Munich, 1917–21), and served in an army hospital (1918). From this period date his first play, Baal (produced 1923); his first success, Trommeln in der Nacht (Kleist Preis, 1922; Drums in the Night); the poems and songs collected as Die Hauspostille (1927; A Manual of Piety, 1966), his first professional production (Edward II, 1924); and his admiration for Wedekind, Rimbaud, Villon, and Kipling.

During this period he also developed a violently antibourgeois attitude that reflected his generation’s deep disappointment in the civilization that had come crashing down at the end of World War I. Among Brecht’s friends were members of the Dadaist group, who aimed at destroying what they condemned as the false standards of bourgeois art through derision and iconoclastic satire. The man who taught him the elements of Marxism in the late 1920s was Karl Korsch, an eminent Marxist theoretician who had been a Communist member of the Reichstag but had been expelled from the German Communist Party in 1926.

In Berlin (1924–33) he worked briefly for the directors Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator, but mainly with his own group of associates. With the composer Kurt Weill he wrote the satirical, successful ballad opera Die Dreigroschenoper (1928; The Threepenny Opera) and the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930; Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). He also wrote what he called “Lehr-stücke” (“exemplary plays”)—badly didactic works for performance outside the orthodox theatre—to music by Weill, Hindemith, and Hanns Eisler. In these years he developed his theory of “epic theatre” and an austere form of irregular verse. He also became a Marxist.

In 1933 he went into exile—in Scandinavia (1933–41), mainly in Denmark, and then in the United States (1941–47), where he did some film work in Hollywood. In Germany his books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. He was cut off from the German theatre; but between 1937 and 1941 he wrote most of his great plays, his major theoretical essays and dialogues, and many of the poems collected as Svendborger Gedichte (1939). The plays of these years became famous in the author’s own and other productions: notable among them are Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (1941; Mother Courage and Her Children), a chronicle play of the Thirty Years’ War; Leben des Galilei (1943; The Life of Galileo); Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (1943; The Good Woman of Setzuan), a parable play set in prewar China; Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (1957; The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui), a parable play of Hitler’s rise to power set in prewar Chicago; Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (1948; Herr Puntila and His Man Matti), a Volksstück (popular play) about a Finnish farmer who oscillates between churlish sobriety and drunken good humour; and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (first produced in English, 1948; Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, 1949), the story of a struggle for possession of a child between its highborn mother, who deserts it, and the servant girl who looks after it.

Bertolt Brecht

Brecht left the United States in 1947 after having had to give evidence before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He spent a year in Zürich, working mainly on Antigone-Modell 1948 (adapted from Hölderlin’s translation of Sophocles; produced 1948) and on his most important theoretical work, the Kleines Organon für das Theater (1949; “A Little Organum for the Theatre”). The essence of his theory of drama, as revealed in this work, is the idea that a truly Marxist drama must avoid the Aristotelian premise that the audience should be made to believe that what they are witnessing is happening here and now. For he saw that if the audience really felt that the emotions of heroes of the past—Oedipus, or Lear, or Hamlet—could equally have been their own reactions, then the Marxist idea that human nature is not constant but a result of changing historical conditions would automatically be invalidated. Brecht therefore argued that the theatre should not seek to make its audience believe in the presence of the characters on the stage—should not make it identify with them, but should rather follow the method of the epic poet’s art, which is to make the audience realize that what it sees on the stage is merely an account of past events that it should watch with critical detachment. Hence, the “epic” (narrative, nondramatic) theatre is based on detachment, on the Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect), achieved through a number of devices that remind the spectator that he is being presented with a demonstration of human behaviour in scientific spirit rather than with an illusion of reality, in short, that the theatre is only a theatre and not the world itself.

In 1949 Brecht went to Berlin to help stage Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (with his wife, Helene Weigel, in the title part) at Reinhardt’s old Deutsches Theater in the Soviet sector. This led to formation of the Brechts’ own company, the Berliner Ensemble, and to permanent return to Berlin. Henceforward the Ensemble and the staging of his own plays had first claim on Brecht’s time. Often suspect in eastern Europe because of his unorthodox aesthetic theories and denigrated or boycotted in the West for his Communist opinions, he yet had a great triumph at the Paris Théâtre des Nations in 1955, and in the same year in Moscow he received a Stalin Peace Prize. He died of a heart attack in East Berlin the following year.

Brecht was, first, a superior poet, with a command of many styles and moods. As a playwright he was an intensive worker, a restless piecer-together of ideas not always his own (The Threepenny Opera is based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, and Edward II on Marlowe), a sardonic humorist, and a man of rare musical and visual awareness; but he was often bad at creating living characters or at giving his plays tension and shape. As a producer he liked lightness, clarity, and firmly knotted narrative sequence; a perfectionist, he forced the German theatre, against its nature, to underplay. As a theoretician he made principles out of his preferences—and even out of his faults.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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