Tearful father of Piano Man baffled by son's behaviour

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Andreas Grassl, 20, whose four-month silence in a British hospital spawned elaborate theories of a troubled musical genius, took refuge in his family home as the reality of his life story began to emerge.

Former friends and neighbours of Grassl in Prosdorf, a remote farming village of only eight houses near the Czech border, described him as a quiet, slightly eccentric young man. He was the only person from the village to take Abitur (the equivalent of A-levels) - his main subjects were French and biology - and his teachers described him as a "likeable" and "intelligent" student who rarely misbehaved in class.

He was a keen internet surfer who apparently spent hours in chatrooms where he was known by his online title "Scatman".

Mr Grassl's father, Josef, insisted yesterday that his son was no trickster and said he needed time to explain the motives for the extraordinary vanishing act that took him from Paris to the Kent hospital from which he was discharged this week.

Mr Grassl Snr, 46, burst into tears as he spoke of his son: "He is back where he belongs with his family. What happened to him is still a mystery. Andreas is not in a fit state to talk about his experiences. I am protecting him from the media because of his state of mind."

Mr Grassl Snr and his wife, Christa, 43, who have two daughters, reported their son missing in May this year, shortly after the mute Piano Man was found wandering in a sodden dinner jacket and patent leather shoes on a desolate Kent beach.

They said the last contact they had with him before his disappearance was when he set off to the town of Saarbreucken near France to work for nine months in a home for the handicapped - it was an alternative to performing compulsory military service in the German armed forces.

The couple said their son had then told them he had gone on to Paris to continue his studies. "We called him about once a month but, in May, he stopped answering his mobile phone," Mr Grassl said. "After that we contacted the German and French police and he was registered as a missing person. But they said that there was nothing that could be done because he was an adult."

Mr Grassl Snr said he heard of his son for the first time since his disappearance this week, when he was contacted by the German embassy in London. "We never knew he was in England at all and we were worried stiff," he said. "Andreas has not explained exactly what happened but I know he is not a conman. We need to protect him because we fear for his state of mind. He needs time to explain."

Andreas Grassl was being treated at the Little Brook Hospital in Kent, where he had refused to speak since his admission in May. Initially it was thought that he was a concert-level pianist, after reports from social workers that he had performed a "beautiful" rendition of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. However, it now seems his musical ability is confined to repeatedly hitting a single note.

Yesterday it emerged he wrote a column for a newspaper in the nearby town of Regensburg but developed a reputation as something of a loner. His former schoolfriends said he had a "distant look" in his eyes.

"I knew that he had been away for a year," said Stefan Hutter, a neighbour. "But I wasn't aware he had been in Paris and then England. "I met his parents now and again - Prosdorf is very small - but they never talked about Andreas."

Mr Hutter said he had played football with Mr Grassl but had never really got to know him. "He was always a bit of a loner. He never really made friends with anyone."

Franz Loeffler, Prosdorf's mayor, said yesterday: "The Grassls are good and decent Christians. If Andreas was the Piano Man, there is probably a very good reason for what happened. I am sure there was no wrong intended."