The 17 families who shared Mr Dircks' apartment block in Hamburg were aware that their neighbour had difficulty getting about on his crutches. They also knew him to be a grumpy loner, embittered by his divorce and crippled after a hip operation.
His name would nevertheless go on the rota for the household chores, and invariably he would miss his turn. "How inconsiderate can people get?" they would mutter. But no one thought to ring his bell.
What the neighbours did not know is that Mr Dircks had been dead all this time. That was established this week when the landlord turned up to collect the rent, only to discover a skeleton seated in front of the television set. The box had blown a fuse, but the lights on the Christmas tree in front of the window were still flickering. Spread out in the skeleton's lap was a television listings magazine opened at the date 5 December 1993. Mr Dircks was 43 years old at the time.
His two immediate neighbours on either side had moved out four years ago. The others had heard rumours that Mr Dircks had also moved to a home. His overfilling mailbox would be occasionally tidied up - by whom, no one knows.
All the bills were paid by direct debit from the account of Mr Dircks' mother, who still lives in an old people's home. The landlord only became interested when no more rent was forthcoming because the account had run dry.