The `Piano Man' turns out not to be so extraordinary at all


Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 19

A German who became known as the "Piano Man" after apparently showing extraordinary musical ability while refusing to talk for months in a British hospital had craved fame, a report in Germany has concluded.

Andreas Grassl, 20, who sparked a worldwide search for his identity when he was found in April in Kent on the south coast of England, is the only son of a dairy farmer from the small Bavarian town of Waldmuenchen near the Czech border, Der Spiegel magazine reported.

Determined to break out of smalltown life, he had written to a number of German television shows asking either for a work placement or to appear on shows but all his approaches were rejected.

After being treated for four months in England, Grassl's identity was revealed when he suddenly started speaking this month.

He is now said to be in hiding in Bavaria and is letting his lawyers do his talking. They say he is mentally ill.

Grassl refused to speak or communicate while under observation at a hospital, but drew a grand piano when given a pencil and paper.

When shown a piano at the hospital chapel, he reportedly impressed his carers with what was said to be a virtuoso performance.

However there is still no proof that Grassl is a talented musician and suspicion surrounds the story of his piano-playing.

Spiegel said Grassl was a precocious teenager who used to write a satirical column in his school magazine and later for a Bavarian local newspaper about stars including Britney Spears and Kelly Osbourne.

He had boasted of a 20-second appearance on a Czech radio station, but his other efforts to break into showbusiness were unsuccessful.

He felt an outsider in his home town because he was gay, said a school friend, Dana Shano.

"Small towns were not for him," Shano told Spiegel.

Grassl moved to the German city of Saarbruecken and took a modest apartment while he underwent a period of civilian service, which young Germans can choose instead of military service.

Spiegel said Grassl spoke French fluently and often spoke of visiting France and one teacher recalled he had written essays about French slang.

But it remains a mystery why in March this year he chose to move to the French Atlantic Coast resort of Pornic instead of to the brighter lights of Paris.

One month later he traveled to England and was found dressed in a black suit, soaking wet on a beach.

The British tabloid Daily Mirror reported last week that he was trying to commit suicide when he was found.