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Joyful Kids, Frayed Parents When COVID-19 Scare Closes German School


A journalist's job is to observe and then report those observations. It's not supposed to be about you, until it is, which is what happened to NPR's Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz. On Monday, the school where his kids go was closed because a student may have had contact with someone who has the coronavirus.

RAINEY: Ooh, ahh, ahh, ooh, ooh (ph).

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: That's my son Rainey. He's skipping around our home acting like a monkey. He and his younger brother Landon are thrilled school will now be closed indefinitely due to coronavirus. Their classmates felt the same way.

RAINEY: When they said that, that school's going to be out, everybody was super happy. The teacher thought we were panicking.

SCHMITZ: He says the teachers thought the kids were shrieking in panic; in fact, they were screaming with joy. Now that my sons are at home, though, real panic begins to set in, and it's not about the virus.

LANDON: Can I play on your iPad?

SCHMITZ: How long have you been reading your books?

LANDON: For an hour.

SCHMITZ: No, it has not been an hour.

LANDON: About 45 minutes.

SCHMITZ: Screen time - my wife and I don't allow it on weekdays, but there's suddenly no school, and the boys are testing our rule. At these times, I think of how Steve Jobs wouldn't let his own kids use his products. And then I think to myself, Steve Jobs could afford an au pair. Two hours into their quarantine, I've already surrendered.


LANDON: (Singing) Trying to keep it peaceful is a struggle for me. You know how I like it when you cuddle with me. You know how I like it when you loving on me, hey.

SCHMITZ: So my boys play on the sofa, playing iPads, asking Alexa to play the same Drake song over and over. I eventually announced Drake and iPad time are finished. They will quietly read, I decree, while I make dinner. It does not last.

RAINEY: Stop it.

LANDON: Dad, Rainey's on his...

RAINEY: Stop it.

LANDON: Rainey is on his iPad.

RAINEY: Stop it.

SCHMITZ: Things eventually calm down, dinner is served, and Landon has a question.

LANDON: What if everybody dies?

SCHMITZ: Oh, that's kind of a scary thought. You think that could happen?


SCHMITZ: I don't think so, either.

I'm happy he came up with that conclusion on his own. Others here in Germany have, too, like Christoph Dietrich, who is taking his 4-year-old to school in Berlin.

CHRISTOPH DIETRICH: (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: "Frankly, there's too much panic," he says. "Sure, we should keep an eye on our kids and their health, but everything else is just panic." Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged his countrymen to stay calm. He's asking journalists to do their part, too.


JENS SPAHN: (Through interpreter) If supermarkets are low on certain items for a couple of days, don't publish photos of empty shelves with the headline, look - there's no food left in Germany.


LANDON: (Singing) Might go down a G-O-D - yeah, wait.

SCHMITZ: Back at my home, the boys are still listening to Drake but off their iPads - thank God And I'm on the phone with my wife Lenora. She's just arrived to the airport from a two-week-long business trip that ended in - gulp - Seattle. She says her throat hurts.

LENORA CHU: I guess I feel a little paranoid because I've been convening with a bunch of top China experts, and we all don't know where everyone's been while we were there. The first death in the U.S. was reported right in Seattle.

SCHMITZ: But what's the point in panicking, she asks, if the virus is turning up everywhere? Instead, we'll worry about keeping these two busy.

LANDON: Rainey is on his iPad.

RAINEY: No, I'm not.

SCHMITZ: Wish us luck.

LANDON: Ow, ow, ow, ow (ph).

SCHMITZ: Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin.


DRAKE: (Singing) Bad things - it's a lot of bad things... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Shanghai, covering the human stories of China's economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China's impact beyond its borders has taken 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.
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