Esme Nicholson

BERLIN — The post-Merkel era is imminent, something an anxious German electorate has been trying to ignore. But the mood grew more upbeat last week after the Green party announced its first-ever chancellor candidate and Merkel's conservatives decided, after much internal wrangling, on theirs.

BERLIN — Tareq Alaows was hoping to become the first Syrian refugee to win a seat in Germany's parliament when the country goes to the polls in September.

Speaking to NPR in February after announcing his candidacy with the Green Party, the 31-year-old lawyer and human rights activist from Damascus was full of ambition to help make Germany a better place.

"From my own experience as an asylum-seeker, I know that Germany needs to improve its integration policies, because they impact everyone, not just refugees," he said. "I want to effect change for everyone in Germany."

This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making good on a veiled threat she issued two weeks ago to centralize pandemic management. Amid growing calls for Merkel to take control of the situation and bypass the country's 16 state leaders, Germany's parliament is expected to pass a measure this month that will allow her finally to take charge of the country's COVID-19 response.

Every day at noon, Berliners are reminded of the American ideals of freedom and democracy as the Freedom Bell rings out from a tower of the government building where U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in 1963.

Modeled on Philadelphia's Liberty Bell, the 10-ton bronze bell arrived in 1950 as a gift from the National Committee for a Free Europe to the people of what was then West Berlin.

Airports can be emotional places, where loved ones part ways and families reunite. Now more than ever, as the pandemic hampers air travel, they are an embodiment of what the Germans call Fernweh, which — for want of an English word — roughly means the painful longing to be elsewhere, a wretched wanderlust or restlessness.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a limited lockdown in a bid to stop the exponential growth in coronavirus cases, currently doubling every seven days.

Following long negotiations with Germany's 16 state governors, Merkel, who's been urging the public to dial down socializing for weeks, persuaded the governors that closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, swimming pools, theaters, cinemas and concert venues is their best option.

"We only need infection numbers to double another four times and the health system is finished," she warned Wednesday.

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Statues and Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi are among about 70 objects that have been damaged with an oily substance at several of Berlin's major museums.

Police, who believe vandalism to be the cause, are unsure of the motive. But German media is speculating a link to a conspiracy theory propagated by coronavirus deniers.

Christina Haak, the deputy director general of Berlin State Museums, told reporters Wednesday that the incident amounts to the greatest damage to the museums' artefacts since World War II.