He is known as the "Good Samaritan" although his true identity is unknown, yet residents in the German city of Braunschweig are being kept enthralled and delighted by a mystery donor who has so far given €190,000 to the needy in unmarked envelopes brimming with cash.
The real life fairy tale unfolds in almost always the same way: an unwitting recipient opens his or her letter box to discover an anonymous pristine white envelope stuffed full of €500 notes. Together with the cash is a local newspaper article about someone in need. Often it is the person who opens the letter.
The mystery benefactor launched his donation bonanza in November after a story appeared in the local Braunschweiger Zeitung about a resident who had been robbed of thousands in cash. Within days an envelope containing €500 notes was dropped through the letter box at a local victim support centre along with a copy of the article. The robbed resident could not believe his luck.
Since then, the nameless donor has given thousands to needy people and organisations throughout the city. The most recent cash present was delivered to a local hospice last weekend. A student worker discovered an envelope stuffed with €10,000 hidden under the doormat as she was taking out the rubbish.
"Every editor dreams of such a story," said Henning Noske, from the Braunschweiger Zeitung in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine yesterday. His paper has been providing blow-by-blow coverage of the Samaritan's exploits. He pointed out that the cash presents were often wrapped in stories written by the paper's journalists.
Since November, the Samaritan has donated unmarked envelopes each containing €10,000 to a variety of recipients, including a day-care centre for the elderly, four local charities, a choir, several kindergartens, a library, a soup kitchen and an aid organisation in Sierra Leone. In one case, a needy vicar found €10,000 behind hymn books in his church.
Mr Noske said that inevitably, there had been speculation that the mystery donor was a latter-day Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor and therefore wished to keep his identity secret. "Or he could be an old person who is about to die. The fact is we just don't know," he said.
The Braunschweiger Zeitung, has since received requests from needy organisations far beyond its circulation area asking journalists to come along and report about their problems. However, the paper has firmly rejected such demands. It has also decided to respect the Samaritan's desire for anonymity and make no attempt to find out who he is.
The ploy has clearly paid off. The paper continues to be provided with a seemingly endless series of rare and uplifting "good news" stories.