The train came to a grinding halt just outside Aulendorf. I instinctively thought that someone had pulled the emergency brake. Two attendants ran past with somber looks on their faces; something very serious had taken place.

In Ireland, a canned statement would follow an hour later, about an unavoidable delay “for operational reasons”. But this is Germany. Here, in this railway line between Ulm and Friedrichshafen, we were told what happened almost immediately. Someone had ended his life, throwing himself in front of the train. When the engine came to a halt, his body was some distance behind the carriages, in a state I dare not imagine.

Sitting opposite us was a rather odd man. He was somewhat elderly. A few long whisks of grey beard intermittently jutting out of his wide chin at strange angles. A few times during the journey, he would turn to us and declare “Es regnet” (It’s raining). Most of the time he spoke quietly to himself. Occasionally he would take out a book, seemingly a yearbook of 2009, read a few lines, then replace it back in its bag. While disconcerting, we paid little notice.

When the train stopped, he abruptly became animated, asking us what had happened, as if we had some special insight into the accident that he did not possess. After being told about the suicide, the man asked us if the criminal police would interview all of us. He seemed perturbed by the prospect.

The train attendant quickly became his object of attention. This young woman, clearly upset by the incident herself, was harangued by the man every time she passed by. He wanted to know when the train would go again. He had to have lunch, you see, in Friedrichshafen. Then, he wanted to know if the train back to Ulm would be on time. No comprehension in his eyes that someone had just died.

Emergency workers and police were now making their way down the track to photo the body and determine the circumstances. He started banging on the window. “When do we continue our journey” he would shout. At one stage, an official pointed to his watch, intimating that we would be going in 20 minutes. It wasn’t enough for the man. He got up from his seat and followed the beleaguered train attendant down the carriage. “But I have to eat in Friedrichshafen”, he would say.

The train finally got underway and we finally arrived in Friedrichshafen. Descending from the train, he started shouting at other passengers. “Out of my way” he would yell, at one stage adding an racial expletive to a black man ascending the steps. He barked another order at an elderly woman in crutches at the doorway of the station.

Then he was gone, presumably to eat a rushed lunch, harassing some unfortunate waiter or waitress in the process; oblivious to what had happened or to how other people might perceive him. A strange man indeed.