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.

Germany officially passed 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Friday as the country's daily totals remain high through the first month of what the government calls "lockdown light." Since the beginning of November, schools and most shops have remained open, but bars, gyms and other indoor leisure centers have closed, with restaurants only open for takeaway orders.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country will have to live with these restrictions through at least Dec. 20.

The European Union's landmark stimulus plan to assist member states whose economies have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is now in crisis after Hungary and Poland blocked passage of the 2021-2027 EU budget.

The two Eastern European countries say they're vetoing the budget and coronavirus recovery plan over language in the measure that would dole out EU funds to member states on condition that they uphold the bloc's rule-of-law standards.

The 1.8 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget must be approved by all 27 member states to be adopted.

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President Trump's announcement that he and the first lady have tested positive for the coronavirus sent global markets downward and drew compassion from world leaders. But as NPR's Rob Schmitz reports, not everyone was sympathetic.

Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been discharged from a Berlin hospital after spending more than a month there following his poisoning in Siberia.

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At first glance, swimmers along Germany's Baltic coast thought the creature swimming toward them was a dog. A sailor had seen the animal, too, miles away from shore in the open sea, and thought it was a porpoise. But they were all mistaken. It was a wild boar.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a variant of Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, according to tests carried out by a German military laboratory. A German government spokesman said the evidence is "without a doubt."

Navalny "is the victim of a crime that intended to silence him," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a news conference Wednesday about the findings. The crime, she said, was an "attempted murder."

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Among the twisting alleys of the St. Pauli district in Hamburg is the Reeperbahn, Germany's busiest red-light district. One stretch, Herbertstrasse, is blocked off to women who aren't sex workers. This part of Hamburg is nicknamed in German "die sündigste Meile," or "the most sinful mile." But for the first time in two centuries, this mile is less sinful than ever, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

Alexei Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critics, was poisoned by an unknown substance from a group of drugs that affect the nervous system, according to the German hospital that is treating the Russian opposition leader.

The drug is a cholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it disrupts the body's ability to break down acetylcholine — an important neurotransmitter in the brain and body.

Navalny remains in a medically induced coma in intensive care.

In 1963, 11-year-old Klaus Teuber received a gift that would change his life: a board game. "When I opened the box of the game, I liked the scent of the game," he remembers, inhaling deeply. "Ah, so wonderful! There is adventure in this box!"

It was a game of Romans versus Carthaginians. "It was a tabletop game with wonderful painted figures, and you had to role the dice to fight against the others," Teuber recalls.

Less than a month after President Trump vowed to stop funding the World Health Organization, Germany and France say they will contribute financial backing to the agency in its fight against the coronavirus.

Germany promised to give 500 million euros (over $560 million) in funding and equipment to the WHO this year, as the country assumes the presidency of the European Union.

Germany, a country of more than 83 million people, has flattened its coronavirus curve, dropping from a peak of more than 6,000 new cases a day to just around 600 now. Contact tracing by telephone is one tool the country has relied on.

"Public Health Authority, Pankow," says an operator, answering her phone before the first ring is over and identifying the Berlin district where she works. "So," she confirms with the caller, "you've had contact with someone who's tested positive."

Before most of it was torn down, artists considered the Berlin Wall one of the largest canvases in the world. On a hill overlooking Berlin's Mauerpark, one of the last surviving sections of the wall is still covered in graffiti art — some of it abstract, some paying homage to celebrities and historical figures.

Now, one of the most prominent sections of the wall bears a portrait of George Floyd.

Berlin has become the first German state to pass its own anti-discrimination law. The law bars public authorities — including police — from discriminating against anyone based on background, skin color, gender, religion, disabilities, worldview, age, class, education and sexual identity.

The legislation passed Thursday has been in the works for weeks, but it has taken on a new meaning in the wake of protests against systemic racism that have erupted in the U.S. and spread to cities around the world, including Berlin.

Hungary's government has asked American news outlets to apologize for what it calls "baseless" critical coverage of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's coronavirus emergency powers. Granting Orbán special powers was the latest in a series of steps by Hungary's government that have stripped the country of its democracy, critics say.

In an email Hungary's Embassy in the U.S. sent NPR late Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations Zoltán Kovács wrote, "Hungary has been subjected to a barrage of attacks unparalleled elsewhere in Europe."

"This is Europe's moment," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament today, as she proposed a massive fund to help Europe recover from the coronavirus pandemic. "Things we take for granted are being questioned. None of that can be fixed by any single country alone."

Arne Garlipp has farmed his 150 acres of asparagus in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt for 24 years. For much of that time, he has relied on seasonal workers to help harvest it each spring.

"Our Romanian workers live with us on the farm," says Garlipp. "In the fields, they're surrounded by fresh air, birds and very few people."

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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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