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Syrian refugee becomes an Internet hit

Janina Semenova / cdNovember 26, 2015

A Facebook post intended for a handful of friends has resulted in worldwide attention for a Berlin woman and a Syrian refugee named Alex.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. D. Gabbert

It's a story that has moved the Internet: A Syrian refugee by the name of Alexander Assali cooks meals every Saturday and distributes them to Berlin's homeless. His small act of charity has brought him worldwide attention after a Facebook post by Tabea Büttner (pictured above, right).

Tabea told DW that Alex has been dishing out the Syrian meals for three months now. He was doing so last Saturday at Alexanderplatz in Berlin when Tabea accompanied him for the first time.

The next day, she posted a photo to her Facebook page and wrote, "THAT'S ALEX."

Flüchtling kocht für Obdachlose
Alex cooking for Berlin's homelessImage: facebook/Tabea Bü

Every Saturday he goes out on the street and distributes food to the homeless, even though he doesn't have much, she writes, portraying him as a very humble man.

Tabea originally posted the photo, and Alex's story, for her friends alone to read.

"I never met anyone like him who lost everything and still gives everything," she told DW.

Alex came to Germany a few years ago after fleeing Syria. The IT engineer's path to this country, however, was continually interrupted due his need to make money.

Alex's Saturday handouts are a means of giving back to Germany - something he's written on the placard hanging from his small stand, along with his email address (in the event someone would like to support him).

Facebook Screenshot Alex aus Berlin - Seite von Tabea Bü
The original Facebook postImage: facebook.com/tabea.bue

He cooks the food himself, usually Syrian cuisine. "He can cook pretty well," Tabea says.

That her photograph would ultimately result in this much media hype is something neither Alex nor Tabea could have expected.

"More and more people keep sharing it," she says. After four days, it had been shared 2,000 times on Facebook and even made the front page of Reddit.

"The people we actually wanted to reach [by handing out food] don't necessarily have Facebook," she admits. But both Alex and Tabea are happy with the feedback. "That motivates others," she says.

She also hopes that the image will change how others perceive refugees - particularly after the terror attacks in Paris resulted in many negative reactions toward Syrian refugees, given that one of the attackers reportedly entered the EU as a Syrian refugee.

Tabea and Alex know each other through a sort of shared-living space called "Refugio-Haus" in Berlin, where refugees live together with Germans in a communal apartment environment.

Now, the two are caught up in a wave of media attention.

Still, Tabea and Alex will be out again on Saturday, sharing Alex's homemade Syrian food with Berlin's homeless - or as Alex writes, "Giving something back to the German people."