It all began with a three-minute video on YouTube: in it, Firas Alshater from Syria can be seen standing blindfold on Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin, with a sign next to him that reads: “I am a Syrian refugee. I trust you – do you trust me? Hug me!” Passers-by seemed reluctant to get involved, and Firas Alshater waited. And waited. And waited. And then came the surprise: all of a sudden passers-by starting hugging him like mad. As Alshater sums it up: “When the Germans start something, they simply don’t stop”.
Shortly afterwards he was named a “Next Generation Leader” by Time Magazine, and Alshater’s crowd-funded YouTube series “Zukar” is now into its second season. In October 2016, Ullstein extra published Alshater’s autobiography, entitled “Ich komm auf Deutschland zu – Ein Syrer über seine neue Heimat“ (i.e. Approaching Germany – A Syrian talks about his new homeland).
Idiosyncrasies viewed affectionately
In it, Alshater describes how things began for him in Germany, using affectionate observations to dissect the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the Germans, an approach he successfully put to the test in “Zukar”. For instance, Alshater writes that “the Germans love paper”, saying that this relates not only to identity papers (“If you don’t have any papers you are nothing here!”), but also to toilets: “German tourists abroad miss three things above all, I have been told: their German bread, their dog, and toilet paper.”
Alshater does not gloss over the critical aspects of his arrival, however: “I danced into the Syrian revolution. I flew to Germany. But I dragged myself into the hostel for asylum seekers.” Because as a filmmaker Alshater initially had a work visa and only then applied for asylum, life in an overcrowded hostel posed some major challenges for him. The wait for a German course, for a first apartment of his own and for some first money of his own. The hostilities one experiences, and the helpless feeling of always being just “the refugee”. But Alshater is a fighter. As he asks ironically in his book, would you rather learn German or be tortured in Syria? He has long since answered this question for himself. He is now studying film in Potsdam. Firas Alshater wants to work in the country in which he lives – and which, following the loss of his old homeland, has become his new home.
International Migrants Day on 18 December 2016