Hundreds of thousands Internet users have seen Firas Alshater’s short clip, in which he pokes fun of German quirks like a perceived tendency for needing a long time to warm up to new people and circumstances.
It shows Alshater standing in Berlin's central Alexanderplatz, blindfolded and with his arms wide open. A sign next to him reads “I'm a Syrian refugee. I trust you. Do you trust me? Give me a hug!” But while the fluffy-bearded 26-year-old looks more teddy bearish than terrorist, at first nobody takes him up on the offer. Only after a woman finally breaks the ice do other passers-by follow suit, one man even leaping into Alshater’s arms.
The video then shows the Syrian comically running away from hordes of hug-obsessed Germans.
“I learned that Germans need some time, but then nothing can stop them. Therefore, I think that integration will work out,” Alshater said, summing up his experiment into the camera.
Alshater, who came to Germany two and a half years ago after being imprisoned and tortured as an opponent of the Assad regime, uploaded the clip last Friday. When he returned to his job at a film production company on Monday, several journalists were already waiting for him. His phone hasn’t stopped ringing since and his inbox is overflowing. Everyone in Germany, it seems, wants to get to know the guy dubbed the country’s “first refugee YouTuber.”
“I never thought this would happen. I uploaded the video for no particular reason and never expected to become famous,” Alshater said in a recent phone conversation.
He thinks the success of his video can partly be explained by the fact that many Germans are fed up with the gravity of the integration debate, especially since the mass assaults on women in the West German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men, some of whom are believed to have been asylum seekers.
Indeed it’s a refreshing counterpoint to another clip that went viral last week, which showed a group of young Afghans attacking passengers on a Munich subway train. The video published by an eyewitness on his Facebook page alongside a lengthy comment caused so much outrage that the Munich police were forced to issue several statements in German and English on what a spokesman described as relatively minor offenses. Two of the attackers, aged between 19 and 23, were rejected asylum seekers, the spokesman said. The asylum request of the third was still being processed.
Here’s a Link to the video:
“I think people just need some humor at the moment,” Alshater said. “All they're hearing is bad news, they need something to laugh about. And making people laugh is a way to their hearts.”
When he’s done with his interview marathon, Alshater and his team want to continue working on nine additional episodes and post them “as soon as possible.” Judging from the comments on social media, his fans are already screaming for more.