Rob Schmitz

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.

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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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.

It was two years after the Berlin Wall had fallen when Karsten Hilse realized the people in his town had changed. It came to him in a blast of hot, white light.

"It was the first time that a firebomb was thrown at me," Hilse remembers. "Things like that didn't happen in the GDR."

On a typical day, Prague's City Hall is buzzing with discussions about contracts to upgrade the centuries-old city's network of cobblestone streets or sewers. But this month, assembly members have been debating a bigger topic — China, and what to do about it.

"This is clearly a topic for our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a complicated one at that," city assembly member Patrik Nacher lectures Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib during open debate. "And here you are, pulling Prague into a matter of such importance."

As the bells of evening Mass begin to ring, Kazimiera Sokolowska carefully makes her way up the steps to the Immaculate Conception Church in her hometown of Gora Kalwaria, Poland, in the heart of a bucolic river valley an hour outside of the capital of Warsaw. She attends Mass at least three times a week because, she says, that's what Poles do.

"Being Polish means religion, God, children and family," she says with a warm smile.

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Germany has described yesterday's shooting outside a synagogue in the eastern German town of Halle that left two dead as an anti-Semitic attack.

Here's NPR's Rob Schmitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

For as long as Germany has been a unified country, since 1990, the center-left Social Democratic Party has helped govern Brandenburg, a state in the country's east that surrounds Berlin. Tina Fischer, an SPD member of Brandenburg's state parliament, is concerned about how long that will last.

Updated at 1:10 a.m. ET Monday

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a show of defiance against a government proposal that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.

Organizers of the protest say more than 1 million turned out to the streets, or roughly one in seven Hong Kong residents, but police estimated the crowds were far smaller.

He Qiang should be manning his convenience store, but today he's collecting tiny green berries along the road and shooting them at birds with his slingshot. The 26-year-old is distracting himself from his worries. He spent all his savings — the equivalent of $35,000 — on a store that no longer has any customers.

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When it comes to Chinese authorities' eagerness to manage perceptions of the way they treat Muslim citizens in the Xinjiang region, it would be hard to beat a recent musical performance staged for an audience of foreign journalists.

On the fifth day of a government-sponsored media tour last month, at a detention facility in the far-western city of Kashgar, two dozen Uighur detainees belted out the American children's song "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands."

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