Rob Schmitz | WGLT

Rob Schmitz

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

Prior to covering Europe, Schmitz provided award-winning coverage of China for a decade, reporting on the country's economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China's impact beyond its borders took him to countries such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Inside China, he's interviewed elderly revolutionaries, young rappers, and live-streaming celebrity farmers who make up the diverse tapestry of one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road (Crown/Random House 2016), a profile of individuals who live, work, and dream along a single street that runs through the heart of China's largest city. The book won several awards and has been translated into half a dozen languages. In 2018, China's government banned the Chinese version of the book after its fifth printing. The following year it was selected as a finalist for the Ryszard Kapuściński Award, Poland's most prestigious literary prize.

Schmitz has won numerous awards for his reporting on China, including two national Edward R. Murrow Awards and an Education Writers Association Award. His work was also a finalist for the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. His reporting in Japan — from the hardest-hit areas near the failing Fukushima nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami — was included in the publication 100 Great Stories, celebrating the centennial of Columbia University's Journalism School. In 2012, Schmitz exposed the fabrications in Mike Daisey's account of Apple's supply chain on This American Life. His report was featured in the show's "Retraction" episode. In 2011, New York's Rubin Museum of Art screened a documentary Schmitz shot in Tibetan regions of China about one of the last living Tibetans who had memorized "Gesar of Ling," an epic poem that tells of Tibet's ancient past.

From 2010 to 2016, Schmitz was the China correspondent for American Public Media's Marketplace. He's also worked as a reporter for NPR Member stations KQED, KPCC and MPR. Prior to his radio career, Schmitz lived and worked in China — first as a teacher for the Peace Corps in the 1990s, and later as a freelance print and video journalist. He also lived in Spain for two years. He speaks Mandarin and Spanish. He has a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Police cracked down on large anti-shutdown protests in cities across Germany over the weekend.

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged Europe's largest economy into recession. Official figures show Germany's economy shrank by 2.2% in the first three months of this year. It's the biggest quarterly fall since 2009 when the global financial crisis ravaged the country's economy.

Germany's federal government says the Bundesliga will be the first of Europe's major soccer leagues to resume its season later this month, after play was postponed in March. The German League said the first matches would take place on May 16.

The league has nine matches remaining, and it's committed to end the season by June 30. According to its agreement with Germany's Federal Health Ministry, players will submit to frequent COVID-19 testing and fans will have to watch matches on TV. The public will not be allowed inside or outside stadiums to watch the matches.

As British scholar Richard Evans researched the history of pandemics for a book more than 30 years ago, he was struck by the uniformity of how governments from different cultures and different historical periods responded.

"Almost every epidemic you can think of, the first reaction of any government is to say, 'No, no, it's not here. We haven't got it,'" he says. "Or 'it's only mild' or 'it's not going to have a big effect.'"

Wearing face masks on public transportation and in shops became mandatory in much of Germany on Monday, with some regions imposing fines on those who don't.

The requirement comes a week after small shops in much of the country were allowed to reopen and follows a monthlong government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. Germany has the world's fifth-highest number of confirmed cases, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has implemented strict social distancing rules, limiting public gatherings to two people and canceling public events.

Updated on April 28 at 10:30 a.m. ET

In the pre-COVID-19 era, Michael Crotty's company, Golden Pacific Fashion and Design, based in Shanghai, sold curtains. But since the global economy ground to a halt, nobody's buying curtains. They're buying masks.

"It's pandemonium at its highest level," says Crotty. "It's the Wild West and it really is a unique situation where these factories that can make these goods are in the driver's seat at the moment."

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Germany is carrying out Europe's first large-scale COVID-19 antibody testing to monitor infection rates and help prevent the spread of the virus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she welcomes the development of a European COVID-19 tracing app that protects data and doesn't store the location of its users.

The app, developed by a European initiative, uses Bluetooth to log a user's proximity to other cellphones. Users then receive a message if they've been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

In Germany, nearly half a million companies have applied for government funds to support employees with reduced work hours, as the country with the largest economy in Europe pushes to contain the new coronavirus.

Heavy restrictions on public life, an export slump because of nations' lockdowns and broken supply chains throughout industry have meant millions of Germany's workers are eligible for public financial aid.

When news broke of an epidemic in Wuhan, China, German scientist Christian Drosten was soon in great demand.

Drosten is one of the world's leading experts on coronaviruses, and, back in 2003, he and a colleague were the first Western scientists to discover SARS after China hid information about that outbreak.

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As confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Germany soared past 10,000 last week, hundreds of Berliners crowded Volkspark am Friedrichshain to play soccer and basketball, and to let their kids loose on the park's many jungle gyms.

The conditions seemed ideal for the spread of a virus that has killed thousands. Indeed, as of Wednesday, Germany had the fifth-highest number of cases.

Yet Germany's fatality rate so far — just 0.5% — is the world's lowest, by a long shot.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put herself under self-quarantine after learning that her doctor who had vaccinated her against pneumonia on Friday has tested positive for COVID-19.

Merkel will be tested regularly in the coming days as she plans to carry out her duties from home, and Germany's government will continue to operate as planned, with Merkel's cabinet set to meet Monday to discuss a stimulus package of roughly $160 billion to help keep Germany afloat as it suffers from the pandemic.

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Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET

At least 10 people were killed by a gunman in western Germany late Wednesday at several locations, including two hookah lounges frequented by ethnic Kurdish customers. The suspected shooter, who was later found dead, left a letter and video claiming responsibility, according to multiple German news agencies.

The suspect had reportedly posted materials online that were vehemently anti-immigrant, prompting federal prosecutors to take over the case.

WARSAW — Growing up under Soviet rule, Małgorzata Gersdorf says she yearned for a day when Poland would have freedom and justice. As a young lawyer, she took part in the Solidarity labor movement that sparked the transformation from communism to democracy in her country.

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Alina Dabrowska was 20 years old when she first heard about Auschwitz. She was an inmate at a prison in Nazi-occupied Poland — incarcerated for helping Allied forces — and one day in 1943, while walking the grounds, a new arrival warned her about it.

"She said, 'You're all going to Auschwitz! Do you know what kind of camp that is?' " Dabrowska recalls. "She told us that if someone is out of strength, they were immediately killed. She told us many horrible things. None of us believed her."

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German meat producers are sounding the alarm. An outbreak of African swine fever in China has killed millions of pigs, and that has pushed up the world price of pork. Now there are fears of a sausage shortage in a country that really loves sausage.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not known for being a passionate speaker, touting big ideas or earnest promises. Her personality type would not make her a great candidate for, say, president of the United States.

"She's not a charismatic type," says Stefan Kornelius, who has written a biography about Merkel. But "[German] people don't want to have the visionary thing and being led with flying flags. They just want to have predictability and the guarantee that things are calm and under control, and she gave that guarantee for pretty much all of her rule."

At a workshop in Berlin, Santa arrives to train a handful of apprentices how to act like him. "From out of the forest I appear, to proclaim that Christmastime is here!" he exclaims.

Santa — real name Tim Zander — wears a long, red robe and matching hat, and he pulls on his beard slowly as he recites a traditional poem. He then segues into pointers on how to channel one's inner Santa.

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Germany today celebrates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. NPR's Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz brings us this story on what's left of where the wall once stood.

When he was 22, Octavian Ursu watched the Berlin Wall fall on television from his hometown of Bucharest, Romania. As a college student, he had taken part in the bloody democratic uprising in his own country, and he cheered along with those peacefully tearing down the symbol of a divided Europe.

"After the Bucharest uprising, I graduated, and suddenly the border was open and everything was free," he says.

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Among pop culture's great mysteries: How exactly did David Hasselhoff become a rock 'n' roll God in Germany?

The 67-year-old star of decades-old television series Knight Rider and Baywatch doesn't skip a beat when asked the question.

"It all started with a girl named Nikki," Hasselhoff said during a recent interview with NPR in Berlin, where he was on a concert tour of Germany.

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