Germany/Poland/Czech Republic 29th August-2 September 1998 <  >

Apart from a day trip to Belgium, the first venture since becoming a contractor on 1.6.98. What better way to spend a special day than getting up at 0345 to go to the airport… I can't find my pictures of this particular outing, so a track diagram of Ruhland is all I can offer!

Saturday 29.8.98

Enquiry via Internet had revealed an 0502 Penkridge to Manchester Airport, although it was a bit disconcerting to find it missing from the timetable displayed at Penkridge. A long suffering H kindly waited to make sure that the train appeared, which it did, and that it stopped, which it did. I did my best to be a merry throng and was a bit surprised to find 3 or 4 other passengers on the train. The conductor, a cheerful Londoner with no front teeth, said he was surprised too. I wonder if I was the first ever customer for the 0502 from Penkridge. I have the ticket as well, timed at 0513 after lengthy consultation with the Central Trains Fares Manual. Phrases like ‘captive market’ and ‘daylight robbery’ were used about the expensive August Saturday Saver – by the conductor. It cost about £2.50 more than Sun-Thurs.

Arrival at Manchester Airport was 4 late at 0616 after a lengthy signal stop on the south curve. This was new track for me, and obviously required quite substantial engineering. The Runway 2 branch was noted curving away to the left.

For some reason BA had only given me a 60 minute checkin, at 0640, and I got there a few minutes early after a very long (> 10 mins) walk from the station and a not so long queue. By the time I had a precautionary bacon/egg/toast/tea the flight had been called. Dense cloud (2000 ft) all the way to Düsseldorf where the 737, name unknown, arrived at 1003, 2 minutes early. Bus to the terminal, seemingly they are still repairing fire damage. Very slow baggage handling but at least it turned up and I made the 1034 to D-Hbf (gambling that I would get to Duisburg earlier than by going direct) by 2 minutes. Gamble paid off when there was a Duisburg train waiting at D-Unterroth and I was en route to Duisburg by 1038! [This took place before construction of D-Flughafen station on the main line, the Danglebahn connection thereto from the airport, and the removal of the hourly service over the north curve]

The travel centre at Duisburg obliged with a new Kursbuch, and the sandwich bar with plain ham rolls, so after a quick phone call home there was still time to work out that ICE859 had been replatformed from 12 to 6. A slightly late departure – shock, horror – for no apparent reason since the train had been at Duisburg for at least 10 minutes. No, come to think of it there was a reason – waiting connection, possibly from Nederland. A totally uneventful journey ensued (old route Hannover-Magdeburg-Potsdam Stadt-Wannsee-Zoo) a few minutes late most of the way. Some difficulty finding a hotel but after about 45 minutes the Hotel Bogota came up with the goods, a few minutes from Savignyplatz S-Bahn station. A dash to said station just got me on an S-Bahn to Lichtenberg arriving at 1846 for the 1856 to Kosztryn, hauled by a DB Cargo liveried 232. I could get to like them… 

The line to Kosztryn is, er, boring. Flat, straightish, not much to see. Clearly reunification hasn’t caught up with the road system yet as there are still many potholed or pave (or both) roads. It appears that the line used to terminate in Germany and the restoration of the service to Poland is recent. At Kosztryn you arrive at a fenced platform where the station building has a room with two double doors. You troop in through one, go through the curious Polish book-inspecting routine and troop out of the other one on the other side of the fence. Sadly you don’t get your passport stamped! By the time this was finished there was only about half an hour before the 2053 to Berlin. A Zwyviec sign outside the station buffet was a false dawn as it didn’t sell beer. A nearby café did though (Zwyviec Zl 2.50/pint) and I watched some British stunt bicycle riders on Polish? German? television while achieving the day’s objective of a beer in Poland. 

Returning to the station the low level north-south electrified line was noted before the even more informal emigration procedure which consisted of the man on the platform intercepting each passenger on their way to the train. Once again the mysterious chart was consulted. Back to Berlin without incident other than a slight delay at the German border station and a ‘just missed’ connection at Lichtenberg. The next one along was one of the old 1950s (?) sets now with nasty vinyl seats with a ‘graffiti’ pattern. This is a bit too successful because although it may discourage graffiti it looks exactly like it anyway. 

Sunday 30.8.98.

Up at 0630 for a very welcome shower before breakfast at 7. Breakfast was adequate if unspectacular, and featured some very nice marmalade. A walk down Kurfürstendamm to Zoo station got me there in good time for 0805 to Hohenbocka, which got there by B-Schönefeld, Zossen, Finsterwalde and Senftenberg. This provided some useful curve-bashing. A gamble on 1056 Hohenbocka-Ruhland and 1110 back failed miserably because of a long signal stop outside Ruhland. After charging through the subway to miss the connection I charged back just in time to rejoin the Hohenbocka-Dresden train. Because of late and lethargic running I was also able to see 1214 Dresden Neustadt-Zittau go past as we pottered towards Dresden Neustadt. At least this provided a refuelling and telephone stop before the 1349 to Görlitz which restored good humour by turning out a 232 and near complete set of DR liveried vinyl seated 4-a-side compartment stock. A punctual arrival in Görlitz allowed an hour for hotel finding, which only took a few minutes as the Hotel Hansa across the road was most suitable, and reduced the bill by DM30 when they realised that breakfast was not required. Must have been some breakfast! 

All of this was quickly done, allowing time for an Erdinger Weissbier in the ‘piano bar’ just up the road. Very nice too. 

The 1517 to Leipzig via the accursed Hohenbocka was a 234 with 5 in tow. The curve at Horka on to the Hoyerswerda line is single, as is the branch going back to Horka. Given 20 minutes at Ruhland or 40 at Hohenbocka I decided to gamble again, successfully this time as arrival at Ruhland was more or less punctual thanks to a speedy substitution of the 234 for an electric at Hoyerswerda. The morning’s gamble hadn’t been a complete waste either as the layout at Ruhland is:

and the morning train arrived at 3 (the afternoon one was at 4) thus ensuring overlap, since I continued on it.

The return trip to Niesky caused a little concern due to a long wait for a connection at Knappenrode off a late running Cottbus-Bautzen. All was well, though and the 15 minutes late arrival at Niesky was OK for a 21 minute connection. The driver and conductor of the 202 and 1 coach were chatting until 1838 but still contrived to leave on time and reach Horka, where the single line appears to continue eastwards [it does, to Wegliniec in Poland], on time. The IR for Spremberg and Cottbus was already in so a sharp exit from the high level platform was made. Spremberg was reached a couple of minutes late which was no hardship since there is absolutely nothing to do at 1930 on a Sunday. ‘Twas a blessed relief when the sound of a 232 was heard and the 2010 to Görlitz turned up at about 2007. There must be some recovery time in the schedule because a fairly leisurely run back to Görlitz (thus finishing the ‘triangle’ at Horka) still gave a 4 minutes early arrival. A meal at the hotel took ages but was very modestly priced at DM14.90 (£5-ish) for a schnitzel, 3 veg and a weissbier (Erdinger again). 

Monday 31.8.98 

Couldn’t really believe it when the alarm went at 0445! Still, the close proximity of the Hotel Hansa paid off with a brief stroll to the station, arriving at 0512 for the 0520 to Zittau, superpowered with a 234 and 202 for two coaches. Hagenwerder, which has a passing loop, is the only station advertised on the departure sheet which is slightly strange given that Krzewina Zgozelecka on the Polish side of the Niesse is the junction for the Bogatynia branch. A very small posse of immigration persons (one) was standing guard at KZ to see that we all behaved. A branch goes off L to a big power station just before the bridge over the Niesse back into Germany. I didn’t notice the Bogatynia branch go off so this may be the same line [it is]. The bridge over the Niesse seems very large for a river the size of the Tern. Hirschfelde also has a passing loop, where a Zittau-Görlitz train was waiting. There is a very severe speed restriction south of Hirschfelde (reason not apparent) but the level of traffic on the line is presumably enough to see that it is repaired. The approach to Zittau is very flat despite the ‘mountains’ clearly visible beyond. 

No sign of life on the narrow gauge at Zittau; steam was visible in the general direction of the shed but there wasn’t time to walk down. In any case there was probably more coming from 202 486’s train heating boiler. The 234 had retired to Zittau shed on arrival so the same train continued to Löbau looking more normal. A CD railcar was seen heading west, presumably for Varnsdorf; a short fenced length of the southernmost through platform appears to be sufficient for the Liberec-Varnsdorf service. The steam at Zittau shed, on closer inspection from the passing train, proved to be the office heating!

Mittleherwigsdorf is a ‘V’ station where the single line to Varnsdorf leaves the double one to Dresden and I was suitably glad that various plans to change trains there, because of short connections at Zittau, had been abandoned. The borders either side of Varnsdorf are not visible but the astonishing state of run-downness on the Czech side is easy to see. The Zittau-Löbau trains run through Varnsdorf non-stop (if slowly), avoiding immigration procedures, though given that these are in place for the Varnsdorf-Zittau-Liberec service it seems odd to miss out on the biggest station on the line. 

Immediately after the Löbau and Wilthen lines diverge west of Ebersbach there is a very large viaduct with a 5 kph speed restriction on it. Ebersbach-Löbau doesn’t look like a survivor. [Sadly I was right, like many picturesque minor lines in Sachsen it’s closed now]. Unbeknown to me this was a circular working to Görlitz and it obliged me by using the main line platform at Löbau, thus doing the physical connection off the Zittau and Grosspostwitz lines. The buffet was shut, and it was a long walk back to bay platform 5 for the 0806 to Ebersbach. You can’t have everything.

Two hours in Ebersbach is definitely third prize. I did manage to occupy an hour by walking the 200m or so to the Czech border, thence back to the post office for some stamps (DM1 to England), the bank for some Czech dosh (DM30=CZK500 so roughly CZK1=GBP0.02) and the supermarket for some breakfast. For later: there is a service, albeit fairly sporadic, from Rumburk to the CD station at Jirikov which is a few yards on the Czech side of the border at Ebersbach, and definitely separate track. Driver Grumpy of the virtually empty CD railcar insisted my rucksack went in the luggage rack [this is something which has never happened since – as a matter of common courtesy I always use the rack if the train is anywhere near full and I was a pit peeved by his attitude]. I couldn’t be bothered trying to explain about Eurodominos and borders so allowed myself to be ripped off for the full international fare (CZK16, GBP0.32)! The Man was unhappy about changing my CZK100 note so I dug out a left over CZK50. More muttering but at a subdued level and after he had done everyone else’s tickets he produced change from his pocket! 

On to Rumburk, where the major features are weeds and rain. Here the fare to Rybniste proved to be a staggering CZK11/GBP0.22. Confusion reigned for a while as there was only one train present, it had a loco at each end and I didn’t recognise the destination (Kolín). Local enquiries revealed it was going to Rybniste and so, after waiting for an incoming connection, it did. Despite the state of the track, seemingly held together by weeds, it trundled along happily at 40 mph and arrived with a few minutes to spare, sufficient to buy another staggeringly expensive ticket, to Liberec at CZK36/GBP0.72. The, er, international express to Liberec arrived a couple of minutes late at 1206, complete with the most attractive TTI one could hope to meet! This seemingly being a Czech ‘Korridorzug’ it stops at Varnsdorf and then at Zittau where an army of immigration persons awaits the flood of subversives (those who haven’t walked in at Ebersbach, that is). Still no sign of any steam at Zittau apart from three dumped 2-10-2Ts at the back of the shed. The Liberec line actually crosses the narrow gauge on the level, which was something I hadn’t noticed during my epic argument with the DR gripper in 1992. The narrow gauge then drops away and crossed back to the west under a viaduct. 

Things seem more prosperous on the way to Liberec, with Hradek even boasting the ‘Disco Paradise Club’. I doubt it. Liberec itself was a very pleasant surprise, not least the mixed gauge tramlines (I only saw standard gauge trams though). A walk down into town between showers was rewarded with a pedestrian precinct and a nice old Georgian-ish square. They also have such modern convenience as a Rover dealer [remember them?] displaying an MGB roadster, McDonalds and a large Tesco. Back in reality I had a large Staropramen in a bar on the square which was good enough to cause reappraisal of my opinion (and it only cost 50p). [CZK25, in 1998? I was done!] Back to the station for a wedged 1421 to Dečín which got to Zittau at 1502. The Czech immigration man seemed very interested in my passport but let me go eventually. The 1512 to Dresden Neustadt was caught with comparative ease. This turned right at Mittleherwigsdorf thus completing (at Niederoderwitz) all routine track in this corner of Saxony – no, I’m lying, still got Wilthen to Bischofswerda. Still some evidence of infrequent traffic on the Löbau line at Oberoderwitz – might be track lifting trains I suppose. 

A CD diesel was shunting cement tanks at Jirikov on the return and the CD railbus was tucked away at the end of the platform. Revisit required, from the Czech side. Back to Dresden without incident, where a sorely needed refreshment stop was taken at Neustadt (breakfast at 1655!). IC654 ‘Johann Sebastian Bach’ took me to Leipzig, at great speed in some places, behind a 120. The train was virtually empty although arguably a ‘business’ train leaving Leipzig at 1720 bound for Frankfurt.

At Leipzig the tourist office instantly booked me into the Mercure at the ‘August Special’ rate of DM99. The thought of missing breakfast in a comparatively upmarket establishment was unacceptable so I abandoned plans for the 0603 to Cheb and settled for 0737 to Narsdorf instead, with a view to going northbound from Cheb. A wander round the old town including a minor refuelling stop at the Golden Arches ended up with a ridiculously expensive weissbier in a pub near the market. It had an old Mini-Moke or equivalent hanging from the ceiling, and belt driven fans. I should have known better… Still the barperson was very helpful and the weissbier, origin unknown, OK. Horrible local habit of eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. 

Tuesday 1.9.98

Breakfast was worth the replanning. I arrived at Leipzig Hbf at 0725 for the 0737, advertised as platform 26. There being none such in evidence I went to the DB desk, to be told, ‘nür Chemnitz, nicht Narsdorf’. This turned the plan decidedly pear shaped so after a quick scan of the departure sheet I went for 0740 to Gera as being generally the right direction. Much consultation of the K-buch on the way to Gera; decided me that the only worthwhile option was 1018 to Mehltheuer which would do a reasonably inconvenient line from Weida to Mehltheuer, returning as planned via Greitz to finish off another half line. Net result of all this was a 90 minute connection at Gera Hbf. As ever I decided to look at the town, noting with disappointment ‘tk of old trmln’ outside the station (and an old trm, in use as a snack bar). On reaching Berlinerstrasse I found tram route 3 still functioning with a very neat temporary crossover to cope with some roadworks – basically just a special section of tram type rail which tapered down at each end to meat the normal rail. Simple, effective and probably quite cheap compared with cutting in a set of points.

In the town quite a lot of the original buildings remain, many recently renovated. The market square is currently being ‘done’ and will no doubt be an attraction although most buildings are out of use at the moment. South of the square is a large area of nasty post-war building. A worthwhile walk nonetheless. After a restorative cup of coffee I caught the tram back just for the ride. 

The 1018 proved to be a DR liveried 219 with two DR liveried coaches, and well positioned for photography. Most helpful. On leaving Gera there is a large, brand new tram depot next to the railway so clearly the commitment remains. Why on earth isolate Gera Hbf? The trams are metre-ish gauge.

The physical connection at Weida could be north of the station if you were really unlucky but it isn’t at the moment due to a large chunk missing out of the southbound Triptis line (looks as if it could be permanent). Unfortunately the same doesn’t apply at Mehltheuer, where the junction is west of (beyond) the station. To add irritation it is possible to do the connection on an evening train from Hof which goes forward to Gera at 2140. 

The bike compartment of the 2 car DMU down to Hof has tip-up seats as well and provides a reasonable view forward, subject to the location of the conductor and the driver’s briefcase.. The scenery on this stretch is more open and reminiscent of parts of the Eifel district. Coming up from Gera it’s all valley, woods and meadow. Both lines very picturesque in their different ways. 

At Hof the connection to Marktredwitz proved to be a nauseazug tilting unit. However 25 minutes on this produced no ill effects despite it heeling right over on the faster curves. The driver clearly wasn’t frightened of it. Arrival at Marktredwitz was 3 late because of PW but still connected with EC51 at 1258 (actually 1302) to Cheb and Praha. Only minor difficulties were encountered with the DB TTI who excessed me at DM2.80 from Cheb Grenze to Cheb. Very reasonable, I thought at under GBP1 and presumably including a supplement. This EC was just as empty as J.S.Bach yesterday. A pair of 219s, one in the understandable but unattractive ‘graffiti’ livery, provided the power to Cheb.

At Cheb I just had time to discover that a round trip to Luby was possible, buy a ticket, check my return train to Leipzig, and fall flat on my face on the subway steps, before catching the 1340 to Luby which consisted of a railcar and trailer. Excellent it was too, and full throughout with most going on to Luby u Chebu and those not, being replaced. Luby appears always to have been the end of the line. The railcar has to run round, of course. The line winds. And winds. Fields, woods, it winds. First half is level and open, second half more wooded and uphill though not seriously so. I decided to get a ticket at Luby rather than from the conductor, and was rewarded with CZK20 worth of Edmondson. First one on a national railway for, er, let me see, er… On the way back and seen from the trailer it’s apparent that the line actually has quite a lot of gradient. At Velky Luh there were two wagons in a siding but whether in active service or not was difficult to tell especially with very overgrown track. There were also wagons at a factory north of Skalná and at the public siding there, where there is a recently constructed loading platform. Also a shiny siding at Vonsov. The daily freight must be a treat. At Novy Drahov there is another shiny siding and a narrow gauge line disappearing off into the woods. I couldn’t tell if it is used.

Timekeeping was impeccable and the 1524 arival at Cheb provided time to buy a ticket to the border (CZK14, 28p) and a CD timetable, for which I was charged CZK81 which seems unlikely. There only remained to sample the beer. Well, you have to. On tried and tested principle I repaired to the pedestrian only precinct (fairly grim) where a reasonable caff was found and a quarter of an hour whiled away with a 50cl Budvar at 60p. I suspect the local price was lower, given the speed with which the menu disappeared. [These two day trips to Czech left me fascinated, and I’ve been back a lot since. I’ve rarely paid CZK 30 for a beer, and on a number of subsequent visits to Cheb I’ve found the Regent in the station buffet nearer the platforms (there are two) to be very acceptable. The railway system is a delight, and it has many lines which wind and wind (and rather fewer that don’t!)]

A Czech loco (steeple cab electric 210 066, taken off at Vojtanov) and German stock on the 1618 – Czech TTI as well. Border formalities at Vojtanov brief though the stamp from this morning caused comment [how things have changed. Vogtlandbahn now operate a regular service Adorf-Vojtanov-Cheb-Marktredwitz throughout the day], and the Czech electric was changed for a German 219. An uneventful trudge ensued to Adorf and Weischlitz where I changed to do the line to Greitz. This terminates in a branch line style run round loop on the opposite side of the station building to the Adorf line, so no physical connection, again. Although the loop was shiny it didn’t get used as the train had a remarkable consist of one coach top and tailed by two 202s. Hence an 1808 arrival was comfortably converted to an 1811 departure, with the rear loco hauled. 

There is a modern tram system at Plauen (depot next to the line north of Plauen Lower) but gauge was not obvious at a glance. The viaduct just north of Barthmühle which carries the Plauen Upper-Zwickau line is very high and seems to be ‘2 storey’. Worth a revisit!

I had wondered why one train was shown as two in the timetable albeit noted as continuing to Gera as train xxxx. On arrival at Greiz all became apparent as I was directed to a bus. This looks like a 2212 arrival in Leipzig instead of 2133. Ah well. Forutnate that I’ve done Greiz-Gera before. Nothing in foreign gricing is without interest though, and the 1h 20m rural ramble took in some very pretty if slightly run down villages, and at least one country pub I would love to have sampled. On arrival at Gera everything was shut – hopefully I’ll be able to get tomorrow’s ICE reservation at Leipzig. 

Wrong – Leipzig shut. All of it, except McDonalds which was too horrible to contemplate for a repeat visit, so off to bed. At least the 2212 arrival was kept – the platform clock hit 2212 a few seconds after I stepped off the train. 

Wednesday 2.9.98 

A bit of last day gloom, made worse by an 0520 alarm but mostly dispelled by a shower and a comprhensive breakfast (and by still getting the August room rate for Sept 1!). Off to Leipzig Hbf where the ICE reservation was no problem except for the question of ‘grosses oder klein’. I couldn’t figure this out but got the reservation anyway. Looking at the ticket later, it says ‘grossraumwagen’ so hopefully the question was ‘open or compartment’ and I got open. We shall see.

The 0711 to Magdeburg didn’t suffer the problems of the 0737 to Narsdorf, and departed on time. It was composed of the beastly ‘narrow shouldered’ double deckers which presumably are a German equivalent of Hastings line stock. I wonder where the narrow bit is. A lengthy signal stop, plus engineering works made us 4 minutes late arriving at Bitterfeld where we waited a further 8 minutes instead of 1, thus making for an 11 minute late departure. With a 13 minute connection at Magdeburg worry was setting in on a modest scale, however the day had been contrived to allow a sharp exit at various points en route so ‘Don’t Panic’ was a reasonable approach. So it proved, as the deficit was down to about 8 at Dessau and steadily reduced to around 2 approaching Magdeburg. Another signal stop intervened but eventual arrival was only 4 down, so no problem. DB hadn’t finished with me, however, as 0901 to Schiphol got away 6 minutes late, with a 10 minute connection at Hannover. Once again the Don’t Panic philosophy worked as time was regained with an eventual early arrival at Hannover.

1045 ICE to Bremen is a booked connection is a booked connection anyway, and was also a couple of minutes late. A grossraumwagen is indeed an open coach [Amazing that I hadn’t discovered this in 6 years on DB] though unfortunately I had a ‘back’ (to engine) seat. Uneventful to Bremen where both the Bahnhof and the Bahnhofplatz are being rebuilt, ‘big time’. Nice to see the tramlines being relaid though. For once my navigational abilities deserted me and my usual wander into town took too long to risk stopping for a beer. It’s not the most prepossessing city centre I’ve ever been in. I settled for a Haake Beck Pils in a caff in a small mall at the north exit of the station where there is less chaos, having forgotten just how long it takes to serve ‘draught’ beer in Germany (see 30.4.98), and only just made it for 1240 to Delmenhorst. I needn’t have bothered anyway because I had misread the timetable - again – and my intended 1307 to Osnabruck was Saturdays only. Hence I was very soon on the way back towards Magdeburg on a wedged IR (‘Ostfriesland’, Norddeich Mole – Berlin).

Baling out again at Bremen I decided to get 1347 IC in the general direction of Osnabruck and Basel SBB, then work out what could be done. Further research was done, ending with the realisation that the train called at Wuppertal Hbf and that this would be new track all the way to Wuppertal Oberbarmen; furthermore that the Schwebebahn could then be finished off, returning to Düsseldorf from Vohwinckel. I couldn’t master the ticket machine for once, but eventually found the Danglebahn ticket office and for DM3.20 dangled most successfully to Vohwinckel where I was distressed to find a turning loop (after I got off the ‘train’). Maybe one day. 

Back from Vohwinckel by S-Bahn direct to Düsseldorf Hbf, and thence direct to the airport. A carefully contrived plan to check in early and then go to do the north curve was thwarted by a very long queue at the one BA Europeasant desk (which became two, but too late). I’ll have to save that one for later as well. 

Düsseldorf Airport is a very fine money extracting machine. Everything costs double except the duty free which is OK at £7-something for a litre of Beefeater, Passengers all dutifully loaded on for 2020 departure then Captain St John (pronounced Snt John) comes on to say that our slot is at 2045 and they’ve loaded us on in the hope of getting an earlier one. As somebody once said on the ‘Net… bastards. We didn’t anyway. The food was beyond excuse – red cheese and Spanish onion roll with poppy seeds, a salad (only) roll, and 3 fatty currant biscuits. You wouldn’t (couldn’t) feed it to a goat. When at last the G&Ts came round I got two for some reason. Must be the look on what passes for a face. Back at Manchester the rucksack arrived and I eventually persuaded the booking clerk that the 2208 Brum did stop at Penkridge. Unfortunately it also stops at Alsager, Stoke, Rumburk, Alma Ata,… Back to the bar for a rotten pint of Robinsons at £2.10 - how much? – the Jolly’s Whatever Whatever not being on until October, and finally to the 2208 and so to Penkridge. Conductor made my day by admitting I was his first M/C Airport – Penkridge passenger. Little did he know I’d started at Leipzig.

Still a little cautious about my employment prospects as a contractor, I managed to stay put for a short time - then a short notice closure was announced just before Christmas. To minimise loss of earnings I decided to go for the Monday after Christmas, 28th December, so I set off for Leipzig on Boxing Day...

 

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