Interesting Facts About Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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Nur Bares Ist Wahres: Why Cash Is More Reliable Than Credit Card

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Eidersperrwerk: The site of an unfortunate event.

This is the first of a series on the Eiderstedt Region and St. Peter-Ording in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. Already some bridge articles have popped up in The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The Links are found at the end of this article.

To start off this article, I would like to start with the origin of this title: Nur Bar ist Wahres. When translated into English, it literally means only cash is the real thing.

When looking at this carefully, one has to ask why it is important to have cash when we can pay everything with the plastic card.  When you look at the story that you are about to read, you will understand the logic behind taking a few minutes to go to a bank and arm yourself with valuable sheets of paper.

The story starts out at the Eidersperrwerk (The Eider Barrage), located 11 kilometers south of St. Peter-Ording and adjacent to the NABU Wildlife Refuge at Kattinger Watt. Together with my wife and daughter, we made the third of three long-distance bike tours of more than 30 kilometers round trip. We had just finished a tour through the Kattinger Watt region and were enroute going back to St. Peter-Ording to attend a local celebration at the suburb of Böhl when we were caught by the first of many waves of storms that passed through that afternoon. Known by locals as Schietwetter, the storm front presented high winds and heavy rainfall, combined with high tidal waves which are typical of weather along the North Sea Coast. Seeking shelter at the earliest possible convenience, we found a small restaurant Fischbistro Kattinger Watt, located across from the parking lot at the Barrage. The restaurant offered the most typical of local entrées in the region- anything dealing with fish and Bratkartoffeln (roasted potatoes with ham and onions), along with a good grog (hot water with rum) and a bottle of Flensburger.

There was one catch and it caught us just as we were about to pay: Nur Bar ist Wahres! We only accept cash.

Uh oh! :-O

Explaining this to the cook, we came up with an agreement where we would pay the bill the next morning. However, when living in a society where transactions are almost exclusively done by card, I could not help but find out why many places in the Eiderstedt region only take cash. As this was an occurance with souvenir shops and cafés, I had a chance to find out by interviewing a few people, including those who originated from the big cities, like Berlin, who were also caught off guard when they moved to St. Peter-Ording. After a few misses, I had a chance to talk to a taxi driver who gave me a round trip to the restaurant to pay the bill and like others, only accepted cash as transaction. His answer came along the lines of dead spots and lack of reliability with the banks.

This is where things made sense from that conversation. Why do stores in a rural but tourist region like Eiderstedt accept only cash has to do with reliability and survival? And it has to do with the following explanations:

  1. Internet is NOT everywhere. Even in a densely populated country, like Germany, you can expect to find dead spots no matter where you travel- by train (despite the Bahn’s attempts of incorporating the wireless LAN onto ICE trains and other forms of regional services), car or bike- and no matter which region. While cities with populations of more than 70,000 are well equipped to provide these services at no cost, rural regions, especially in the northern half of Germany, are prone to deadspots where people have almost no internet access. Therefore any attempts to make transactions via computer is futile for communication is patchy at best, nonexistent in the worst-case scenario. Even if you spend more for internet upgrades even on your Smartphone, there is no guarantee of 100% communication online without any distractions due to dead spots, which happen 70% of the time in areas like Eiderstedt. This leads us to the second explanation…..
  2. Banks are unreliable. Because of the housing crisis of 2008-9 in the US and its effects on banks and businesses, banks have become scrutinized by customers and merchants for a number of reasons. Many of which are focused on one of two items that we carry in our wallet: the credit card and the bank card. While with the bank card, what you purchase is withdrawn from your bannk account diretly, with the credit card, you buy on credit and pay later. Both have serious impacts on businesses who believe that in order to do business, you have to have real liquidity. After all, merchants need that real asset in order to pay their bills and purchase new products for the shelves. If you buy on credit and cannot pay, the merchant suffers because of the gaping hole you left it. If your bank bars you from making transactions because of insufficient funds, the merchant also suffers as well because they cannot earn their money through your purchase of their products. This is why many businesses prefer real money over the card because of the high risks involved. This was noticeable among most businesses along the North Sea coast, especially restaurants, souvenir shops, cafés and even bike rentals. But one should also keep in mind that other areas with sparse populations and not much access to banks and the internet have the same attitude as well, such as those in the Erzgebirge, Franconia, the Black Forest and the lakes region in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, just to name a few.
  3. The Unwillingness to Embrace Change- Like in the North Sea region, many rural areas that had once had industry have now turned to tourism as their main source of income because of its only viable way to survive. Except the population has, for the most part, gotten much older and more inflexible to different ways to doing transactions. While some countries, like Denmark, are pushing to eliminate cash and coins in favor of using just the card, the internet is making thing simpler to order and reserve things, and the bitcoin is making its way to the mainstream currency, the older generations are having reservations toward using them because of problems involving their complexity and security. With hackers invading private and business accounts for the purpose of stealing e-assets as well as real ones, many having been in the business for generations have elected to stick to the cash currency that has never failed them regarding transactions. It’s safe, easy to use, and costs can be adjusted based on personal preferences and external factors affecting their business.    “Sicher ist sicher” or in English: “Better safe than sorry” is their slogan but one that seems to work best.

There are many more reasons to add, but they would all fall into the categories of lack of internet, lack of security and trust and finally, the lack of willingness to change. Tradition trumps modernity, real commerce trumps e-commerce and henceforth, cash trumps the card. This was a lesson learned for the ages and one that you as a tourist should keep in mind when travelling anywhere:

Don’t leave home without cash because not every place will take the card. Enough said. 😉

 

Author’s Recommendation:

If you love fish or anything local, the the Fischbistro at Kattinger Watt is highly recommended. Almost every sort of meal offered there has fish in there or is 100% local, whether it is something with matjes or forelle or even a good Labskaus, a local specialty that features a mixture of eggs, beets and other vegetables mixed and served with Bratkartoffel. Given its location at the parking lot near the Barrage and the boat docking area, as well as at the junction of key highways and bike routes, it is a convenient stop for those wishing for a half hour break plus a small souvenir from a shop next door. There is take-out and one can buy fish at the Fish-o-thek to take home. Customer service was really hometown friendly and in cases of situations like this, they will find a way to solve that problem. Just keep in mind, Bar ist Wahres. One of many examples of places where cash gets you far. The card- stash it, cut it up and for those who are used to e-shopping, suck it up. 😉  Grade: A (1,0) for its delicious food and great service!

 

Links to a pair of Eiderstedt Bridges posted to date:

https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/mystery-bridge-nr-85-a-covered-bridge-with-a-thatched-roof/

https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/mystery-bridge-nr-86-brick-culverts-spanning-drainage-canals-and-gullies-along-the-north-sea/

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Flensburg Files Accepting Stories of Christmas’ Past

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While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.

 

Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas  Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.

 

During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles.  Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.

 

Specifically:

 

  • What foods were served at Christmas time?
  • What gifts were customary?
  • What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
  • What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
  • How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
  • What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
  • And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?

 

In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories,  some of which will be included there as well.

 

Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. 

 

The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.

 

Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.

 

And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂

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Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

GUEST COLUMN:

For those who have been living in a country outside your home, and have had problems forgetting some words in your own language, you’re not alone. I’ve had this experience, especially since I’ve been living in Germany for almost 20 years. But so has this guest columnist, and here’s a short explanation for this. You don’t necessarily lose your language, but you integrate it into the one of your current country of residency. Enjoy! 🙂

Source: Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

 

 

Americans and Air Conditioning: A Necessity That Nobody Understands

 

By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I would like to start off my article with a bizarre story that took place while teaching. The company where I was teaching English had a small air conditioning unit installed in one of the rooms in a small container, above the windows. The windows were facing the south side, meaning that in the afternoons during the summer, the temperatures are hot enough to make the 12 x 12 meter room look feel a sauna. It was in the middle of the afternoon with temperatures in the upper 30s Celsius (between 95 and 100° F), and I had the AC unit on, set at 25° C (room temperature of around 72° F). The clients were mostly blue-collar workers who needed the language for correspondence with their distributors, but we had a couple administrators as well who needed English for the office. During the session, one of the administrators decided it was way too cold to sit in the classroom and decided to warm up-

 

outside……. in the heat!

 

Think about this for a second and ask, why go into such a sauna outside when the AC was running at room temperature?

 

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If there was a list of the top ten cultural conflicts we have between Germans and Americans, the issue of air conditioning during the summer time would definitely be right up there. Growing up in Minnesota where we were blessed with extreme cold and extreme hot, the latter of which justifies AC for most of the season, it would even be in the top three for it is a constant discussion in our household.  This led me to doing a question for the forum, asking people living in Germany and America about the importance of air conditioning in the household, to find out whether my AC mentality was an American one only.

 

Despite a few comments that said otherwise, the majority said “Mr. Smith, you’re too American.”

 

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Heat rising up from the rail tracks of a rail line in Iowa. The temperature at the time of this photo in 2011: 32°C 

 

So why are we obsessed with air conditioning? Plain and simple. There were many reasons when I read the responses, but for length purposes, I condensed the reasons down to the top five:

 

  1. To regulate our body temperature. This argument is a no-brainer. People who are opposed to the AC also need to understand that our body temperature has an average of 98.6° F (ca. 37° C) and too much exposure to heat on hot days can lead to heat stroke. While we have a function as a thermostat and try to regulate it so that the body has a balance between hot and cold, being exposed to the heat for long periods of time can be life-threatening.

 

  1. It helps enhance our concentration. When a room is completely hot, we end up losing our ability to think clearly, and learning something for a test, or even preparing for a meeting or class, can be a torture. When we really want to achieve something and/or meet a deadline, we would rather eat an ice cream cone than sit in such a heated room. With the AC, the problem is solved, enough said!

 

  1. The cool breeze creates a soothing mood and great conversations with others. Having lived in a house next to a lake and having a sweet relative have a cottage in the Lakes Region south of the Minnesota-Iowa border, I was accustomed to cool breezes over the summer both while swimming outside in the heat, but also while sitting inside an air conditioned home. With the AC comes good times and great laughter under a company of friends.

 

  1. While we’re on that topic, the cool breeze and the noise from the AC make for a great sleeping environment. Some of the respondents claimed that sleeping in silence, even with the windows open can be quite spooky- especially when there is noise coming from the wildlife refuge in the middle of the night.  The sound of the AC running serves as a sort of therapy, where if switched on, you will switch yourself off into dreamland within a couple of minutes. Very easy to do!

 

  1. Having the AC unit reduces the risks of unwelcomed odors. If there is one pet peeve that is worse than not having an AC unit, it is when you are in an anti-AC environment and you have a whiff of different odors from sources you don’t want to know about. Even if we clean ourselves from top to bottom, heat produces sweat and sweat produces unwelcoming odor. Even petroleum has its own unwelcoming stench, when spewing out of a derrick in Texas at 120° F!

 

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Now it is understandable that people living in Germany do not wish to have an air conditioner in their households or sometimes at work. Several arguments I’ve read and heard from residents over here include the following:

  1. It is a waste of money to install it, let alone operate it- given the environmentally conscious and financially conservative mentality many Germans and residents have, that argument not only fits into both stereotypes but also justified.
  2. It only gets hot once or twice a year- This is pending on where you are living. It would definitely not make sense to have an air conditioning unit along the coastal areas, let alone in areas heavily forested areas, like in Hesse, Baden-Wurttemberg, Thuringia, and parts of Saxony and Bavaria. However in rural regions, like in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Pommerania as well as in big cities, where temperatures can climb above 30°C for at least half the summer months, it would be worth the investment.
  3. People can get sick from breathing cold air- this depends on how often you clean the unit. This argument is justified because of the increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease, but that is usually caused by breathing in air that contains dust and bacteria caused by not cleaning the ventilators, the coolant units and the coolant pipes. To avoid that, take the hour or so and clean it out before you install and operate it for the first time in the season, thank you!
  4. Especially when only the fan is on, I’ve had this argument: Air and dust is just kicked around and it’s just a dressing and ectasy used to create the mood for cooling off, when it does anything but that- Do not ask me who commented on this, but that is more than debateable, just as much as the next two arguments below…. 😉
  5. We don’t want our apartment to look like a Frozen Kingdom!  This depends on how you set the AC unit. This story has been read and heard many times and it goes back to argument 3. People have their preferences as to how cold the AC setting should be. However, one has to consider that other people have to suffer too- even more so if you forget to switch off the AC when leaving the house to go on vacation! Believe me, speaking from experience, you don’t want to enter an icebox after being away for a couple weeks, with all your furniture having a frosty covering on there! 😉

And lastly,

Sweating is the most natural and healthy way for you to produce your own cooling system!  This argument reminds me of the song produced in 1999 by the Bloodhound Gang entitled Bad Touch. While many people prefer to sweat it out, by doing so, it does produce body fragrances that no one wants, even if masked with deoderant.

Now granted there are alternatives to sitting in a hot and sweaty room, such as meeting outside (in the shade), going through a cold sprinkler to cool off, drinking iced tea, eating ice cream and other cold foods, and even soaking your feet in cold water.  Some institutions have “Hitzfreie Tage,” which means people can go home and not worry about the heat. Good and effective suggestions they are,….

….with one exception!

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Given the increase in average temperatures (and with that, the number of heat waves) combined with the increase in the average age of the population (including a spike in the number of elderly people), some of these cool ideas can only work for a short time. In addition, the increase in heat has taken its toll on the human body, where the incidence of heat stroke and cardiovascular diseases have increased over the past 20 years. While Germany lives in a Mediterranean climate, sandwiched by two different seas plus receiving air flow from the Mediterranean, we have been blessed with relatively mild temperatures year round, in comparison with many regions in the US, including the Midwest, with its continental climate- laden with extreme temperatures combined with extreme moisture during certain parts of the year, droughts in other parts! This has played a considerable role in our decision to buy and install air conditioning.

 

But as climate change is taking shape and our temperatures are rising, it is becoming difficult to play energy conservative when we desperately want to cool off and better concentrate on our work and/or learning. For the elderly heat waves are even more dangerous to their health as they can be prone to heat stroke, dehydration and other ailments.  This leads us to a question of when it is time to really fork over the 300 Euros of one-time payment and get a unit for our workplace or even our own home.

In the last 10 years, the number of venues with air conditioning units in Germany has increased, mostly in regions where the population is dense, like in the southern and central portions, as well as in big cities. The trend is increasing unless you are living along the coastal areas. If you are one of those people, you can afford to stick to the stereotype with the AC being expendable. However, for those who are suffering, maybe the time is ripe to get that unit, and there are enough AC units with the best energy values (A+++) that will benefit your pocket. How you want to cool down the house depends on your preference. But it will pay in the end. 🙂

To close my pet-peeve story of ACs and our American obsession- er- advice to the Germans out there, I would like to refer back to my story of the lady walking out of the classroom because it was cold. I responded by switching off the AC unit, only to find it was my unintelligent wrong-doing. Faced with a blind-less window facing the sun, the temperatures increased by 5°C within a matter of 10 minutes! And with that, the unwanted odors, tempers and sweat!  Needless to say, the AC was switched back on and remained that way for the rest of class, much to the satisfaction of the students.

This should tell you something about the benefits of investing in an air conditioner. 🙂

 

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