MAINZ, Germany — The question of who is the mysterious "Piano Man" — the man who turned up last April in a British town with no name and apparently no ability to identify himself — has finally been solved. Now the question is why it took so long to identify the German native.
Shortly after Britain's "Daily Mirror" identified the man as a 20-year-old from the southern German state of Bavaria, the media descended on the region and quickly discovered his identify. He is Andreas Grassl, a native of the tiny village of Prosdorf, located deep in the heart of the Bavarian forest.
Neighbors in the small village, near the Czech border, described the young man as shy, but very friendly.
“I have seen the photo of the 'Piano Man' and that is him,” said Stefan Hutter, 20, who lives in the same tiny village.
Grassl finished high school in summer of 2004 at the “Robert Schumann Gymnasium,” majoring in French and biology. Neighbors say he was a good student.
According to locals, the young man has a strong affection for France, where he was planning to study. And he was very interested in the Internet, using the name "Scatman" in chat rooms, a local newspaper reported.
His hometown, Prosdorf, lies near the Czech border. Neighbors in the village of only 50 said the young man had a very conservative Catholic upbringing and he served as an altar boy in the local church.
But while the villagers were offering interviews, his family wasn't thrilled about the attention. "There is absolutely no chance that you will talk to my son,” Josef Grassl told NBC on Tuesday.
Breaking the silence
Back in April, Grassl sparked intrigue when he was found at a beach on the Isle of Sheppey in southern England, wearing a wet black suit and without any form of identification.
All the labels had been removed from his clothes and it seemed like the young man was unable to speak, which made it impossible to identify him.
He was admitted to the mental health unit at a hospital in Dartford, Kent, where doctors examined him closely and tried to break his silence.
After his story made headlines worldwide, British authorities received thousands of calls, letters and e-mails from people who claimed they knew the man. There was not a single person who contacted authorities from his hometown in Bavaria.
On Monday, the Mirror reported that the man had finally broken his silence after more than four months, and that Grassl had made his way to Britain on a Eurostar train, with the intention of commiting suicide.
It is believed that the young man used to work with mentally ill patients, which helped him to copy some of their characteristics, and fool psychiatric doctors about his own imagined illness.
Even though earlier reports said that the man regularly played the piano — after the instrument was installed by hospital staff in his room — more recent reports claimed that he only hit individual keys on the keyboard once or twice. Instead, he drew detailed pictures of a grand piano, which might have given him the name "Piano Man.”
Finally a name for the mystery man
At a press conference on Tuesday in the nearby town of Waldmünchen, Grassl’s two lawyers said their client was not interested in speaking to the media and that they would not reveal his exact whereabouts.
After talking to the family for half an hour at their farm, lawyers Juergen Linhart and Christian Baumann also said that their client was not a swindler and that he had indeed been suffering from a psychological disease and was taking drugs at the time when he was found in England.
They also rejected reports that Grassl wasn't able to play the piano. In fact, his lawyers said he used to play the keyboard regularly when he was a child.
Journalists are still trying to find out why nobody in the town had identified Grassl earlier, after his photo had been published in newspapers and shown on national television for several weeks.
“He used to look much different,” said neighbor Marianne Hutter. “He used to have his hair combed back and he had glasses.”
After school, Grassl left the village to serve in the so-called “civilian service,” a nine-month term in which young German men can work in hospitals, elderly homes or other public installations, as an alternative to the mandatory military service.
Since then, locals in the village had not seen the young man -- until now.
Andy Eckardt is a NBC News producer, based in Mainz, Lisa Schurr is a freelance journalist on assignment in Prosdorf, Germany.