The True Story Behind the Maneater of Rotenburg

Lois Jones

Cannibal is the story of Armin Meiwes and his willing victim, Bernd Brandes. Armin advertised on internet forums with names like Cannibal Cafe and, after a lot of disappointments when fetishists understandably dropped out after realising Armin actually had a real murder dungeon and was really willing to eat them, Armin found a victim who wanted to be castrated and eaten. Armin was able to eat most of Brandes's body before being reported to the police by another forum user.

The book is apparently based on "hours of research, interviews and first-person accounts of the participants", but that's all we're told. Interviews with who? We know that Meiwes filmed the actual slaughter, so that part at least is believable. But Jones inserts the thoughts of Brandes, the victim, who can't possibly have offered his perspective to the author. She also relates what was going through the mind of Brandes's partner, Rene, when he finds Brandes missing, and what a random twenty-year-old attendee of the court case was thinking. If these sections were based on interviews, it would be interesting to know it. But without a single citation in the book, and with the strangely pornographic style of writing (lots of "horny flesh", "man's meat" and totally wooden flirtatious dialogue), you have no idea what's made up by either the author or Meiwes, and what isn't.

I was glad that the book gave some insight into Brandes. I think wanting to be castrated and eaten is much stranger than wanting to eat someone. At least if you're the cannibal, you get to live and enjoy what's going on! However, this book falls far short of ones like Killing for Company and The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer by Brian Masters, which offer quotes from Erich Fromm, Melanie Klein, Camus etc to link the participants' psychological landscapes to wider social and cultural contexts. This book is more about lurid details and trying to put you into the mind of a fairly tasteless (heh) cannibal who likes puns about eggs.

Everything is too neatly wrapped up, psychologically speaking. Meiwes is shown as a classic Norman Bates type who dressed up as his dead mother. Brandes wants to be castrated also because of something to do with his mother dying. It's too pat and cliched to really ring true. Still, I agree with the book that they must be the closest thing to soulmates. Both had mother issues and incredibly niche extreme fetishes. What are the chances of two people like that finding each other?

It's fun to debate whether Meiwes really did anything wrong and whether he deserves a life sentence. Meiwes doesn't seem to regret what he did and, in jail, asked for bockwurst cooked in garlic and white wine - the same recipe he used on Brandes. He would have killed again given the opportunity. But he let several men free who didn't want to go through with being killed and eaten. Brandes clearly was willing to die. Cannibalism was not a crime in Germany at the time. A lot of the outcry against his original short sentence seemed very like other fear of consensual 'deviant' behaviour - is he going to progress to doing it non-consensually? Does it offend his neighbours or society? Does it just kind of freak people out being around this guy? Is any of that enough to justify a life sentence?

Questions for further research