Firas Alshater can hardly keep his eyes open. The Syrian rose at dawn for an interview on German breakfast TV. He’s being pursued by Israel’s Channel 10. Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, has invited him to a reception.
“It’s f*****g crazy,” he says, pointing to a calendar on his laptop blocked out with interview requests. “It’s nine till nine, nonstop.”
Mr Alshater could be on the way to becoming Germany’s most famous refugee. He is already a YouTube sensation: his first short video went viral, attracting 2.5m views. He’s been profiled in heavyweight German newspapers and asked his views on the latest Macedonian border closures on TV talkshows. Several female YouTubers have proposed marriage.
A pudgy 24-year-old with a lip ring, shaved head and beard, Mr Alshater shrugs when asked why he’s so popular. “There’s so much hate on the internet right now,” he says. “People need something to make them happy.”
What is clear is that he has injected some much-needed levity into an otherwise deadly serious domestic debate about the refugee crisis. The clip that made his reputation is a three-minute performance entitled “Who are these Germans?” in which he stands blindfolded on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz with a sign saying: “I am a Syrian refugee. I trust you — do you trust me?” Those who do are invited to give him a hug.
Mr Alshater stood on the square for about 1½ hours before the hugs started, but then they came thick and fast. “Germans need a bit more time but then there’s no stopping them,” he says in the video. “That’s why integration will work — one day.”
-more at Financial Times