BONN, Germany -- A dead German sat in front of his television set for five years, the lights on his Christmas tree flashing beside him, and none of his neighbors noticed.

"Someone said once that he had gone off to a home; I didn't ask any more," said Monika Majarres, who lived in the same Hamburg block of flats as Wolfgang Dircks, a divorced, disabled loner who died in 1993, aged 43.The two neighbors on his floor only moved in four years ago and had never seen Dircks, a former toolsmith who had reportedly threatened to whip anyone who asked after him.

Other tenants in the 18-flat block minded their own business. Bild newspaper said on Thursday the dead man's letter box, which might have raised the alarm when it overflowed, had been emptied every now and then, though no one knows by whom.

The landlords came knocking only after the bank account from which Dircks' rent and bills were paid ran dry.

Beside the broken television set and the still twinkling tree they found his skeleton -- his TV listings magazine still on his lap and open on the page for Dec. 5, 1993.