Syrian refugee cooks for German homeless to show 'what Syrians are really like'
He says he fills a pot big enough to feed 100 people a week
A Syrian refugee living in Berlin has taken to cooking big pots of food every Saturday and sharing them with the homeless.
Alex Assali has been serving up dishes to the city's needy since August, building stands in different spots around Berlin once a week, often near train stations.
The 38-year-old told CBC News in a phone call that his plan had been to, "show the German people what Syrians are really like," and to "get more involved in the German community.
His popularity soared internationally after Tabea Bü posted a photo on Facebook of Assali preparing two pots of food near Alexanderplatz station in Berlin.
Bü writes that he's fulfilling his goal of giving "something back to the German people."
"God bless him so HE is a blessing for so many more people! THANK YOU ALEX!," she says, adding in German that Assali impressed her and that she couldn't imagine what he was going through.
People online have been feeling much the same way.
A <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Syrian?src=hash">#Syrian</a> refugee hands out food to homeless in Germany! A true Thanksgiving. <a href="https://t.co/8X0q7llU8H">pic.twitter.com/8X0q7llU8H</a>—@ArberMuriqi
Heartwarming… Syrian refugee cooks for homeless people in Berlin, as a way of thanking the city for taking him in <a href="https://t.co/7nXvsKBfOM">pic.twitter.com/7nXvsKBfOM</a>—@els76uk
Assali started his food initiative as part of a Christian Syrian project and began reaching out to Berlin's needy thanks to help from his pastor. The sign on his stand explains some of this in German. Part of it reads "We want to be a positive part in the German community," according to the Independent.
He told CBC News that he first arrived in Germany in Sept. 2014 after escaping an ISIS prison in Libya.
He says he left his home in Damascus, Syria in 2007 for "political reasons" and that he had wanted to study in Germany, but never had the opportunity.
When he first arrived in Berlin as a refugee, he had no idea how to find his temporary residence, which was described as a hotel, from the centre station.
He said an old woman asked if he was lost, and that when he said yes, she brought him onto the train and guided him all the way to his new home.
"I was surprised from this kind of people," he said. "She left everything to take me to the [hotel] because she felt I was foreign."
The idea cemented in his brain when he helped a few friends at a homeless shelter, but also when he started hearing some negative comments about his status as a Syrian refugee.
With some encouragement from a close friend and his pastor, he decided to start his own initiative to help the homeless in whatever way he could. He now has six people on his team to help accomplish that.
One example that Assali described involved a Russian man, about 18-years-old, who drank too much and spent a lot of his time high on marijuana. He couldn't find a job.
"I connected him with refugee work here in Berlin and they got him to work a cleaning company," Assali said, adding that the man still has this job today.
The original Facebook post by Bü says Assali uses his own money to buy the food, which amounts to about 100 to 120 euros or roughly $141 per week.
He hasn't been able to find a job yet, but the German government supplies 359 euros ($506) to refugees a month, 143 of which is for personal use, explains the Wall Street Journal.
Assali said he only spends about 200 euros on himself, and saves the rest to help the homeless.
Each Saturday costs him about 25 euros, or approximately $35. He saves money by making mostly vegetarian dishes, though he said his meals vary from Syrian to Italian.
Bü first met Assali through the Sharehaus Refugio, an organization that helps people in need of a place to live, according to an interview she gave to a German magazine called Stern. Assali explained that she worked in the cafe when he was introduced to her.
The Refugio has since thanked Bü for introducing him to the world with a Facebook post of its own.
"We both never imagined what this little Post could do, but we are happy that we did bring a little light into the world!" Bü says in the group's post.
Assali said that at first he felt trepidation by the more than 300 emails that appeared in his inbox overnight. He had no idea of the origin or why people were congratulating him on his project.
Once Bü explained to him that she had posted a picture of him on Facebook, he was overwhelmed by all the attention, but also very touched.
He now has more than 6,000 emails in his inbox from people around the world, he said.
Assali explained that one of his next goals is to have a house where he can keep feeding the homeless, and he said he hopes others will be inspired to help as well.
"Don't reject any homeless person who asks you for something. They really do need it," he said.