Piano Man is Bavarian...and Bogus | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.08.2005
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Piano Man is Bavarian...and Bogus

Germany's Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that the unidentified man who washed up on a British beach four months ago is a 20-year-old Bavarian. Apparently he's not an amnesiac -- and not much of a piano-player either.


Not what he seemed

Over six feet tall, blonde and clad in a suit, the strange figure dubbed the "Piano Man" was found wandering along a beach in Kent, south-east England in early April. His clothes were drenched, and all the labels had been ripped out. Nothing about his person gave any clues whatsoever as to his identity, and he appeared unable to speak.

Who was he? What was he doing in Sheerness, and how did he get there? As images of the haunted-looking figure went round the world and captured the public imagination, perplexed doctors reported that the man must have suffered some kind of nervous breakdown which had left him mute and stricken with amnesia.

While missing persons helplines fielded hundreds of calls from people trying to identify him, the media was quick to pick up on his purported piano skills and floated various theories about his origins -- one day, he was believed to be an Irish student resident in Norway, another day he was identified as a Czech concert pianist, while yet another theory had him pegged as a French street musician.


Piano-man in der Psychatrie

The truth appears to be somewhat less glamorous. According to British broadsheet The Daily Mirror, the Piano Man uttered his first words last Friday, only to reveal that he cannot play piano and only drew one for his doctors because it was the first thing that came into his head.

Reports that he astonished staff at the Little Brook Hospital in Dartford with his virtuoso playing were grossly exaggerated, said the paper. In fact, all he ever did was tap one key over and over again.

"A nurse went into his room last Friday and said 'Are you going to speak to us today?' He simply answered, 'Yes, I think I will,'" a hospital insider told the paper.

"He claims he was found by police as he was trying to commit suicide," she added. "He was obviously in a distressed state and didn't talk to police. Then it just went from there."

Just a hoax

Allegedly, he also told hospital staff that he was a German who'd travelled to Britain by Eurostar. According to Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, he comes from the small town of Waldmünchen near the Czech border in eastern Bavaria. He also revealed he'd recently lost a job in Paris, was gay, and had two sisters and a father who owned a farm.

Crucially, he also said that he'd worked with mentally ill patients. The revelation clears up at least one mystery -- how a suicidal German managed to fool so many people for so long. Experts now believe he copied some of their behavioral mannerisms in order to convince therapists he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His tactics worked.

"His (behavior) is very reminiscent of autism," said one doctor from the British Autistic Society. A clinical psychologist from Edinburgh University agreed. "When people are suffering from this kind of catatonia syndrome it could be schizophrenia," he said.

With the Piano Man now back in Germany, the Mirror also reports that doctors are considering suing their former patient, arguing that his treatment cost the cash-strapped National Health thousands of pounds and wasted expert time.

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