Two men, one horrific death wish

Next week's murder trial of Armin Meiwes will hear of the grisly and bizarre pact between a cannibal and his apparently willing…

Next week's murder trial of Armin Meiwes will hear of the grisly and bizarre pact between a cannibal and his apparently willing victim. Derek Scally reports from Berlin.

Once upon a time there were two German men who shared a dream. Armin Meiwes dreamed of killing and eating someone, while Bernd Brandes dreamed of being killed and eaten by someone. Two years ago they made each other's dreams come true and next Wednesday Meiwes goes on trial for murder.

Their story has more violent twists and tragicomic turns than a film script - think Psycho meets The Odd Couple - but it is all true.

The first twist is Wednesday's murder trial without a body; Armin Meiwes ate Bernd Brandes two years ago and buried the bones in the garden.


The second twist is that the two men filmed everything: Bernd saying on camera that he wanted to be slaughtered and devoured and Armin subsequently carrying out the bloody last request.

Christmas came early for Germany's tabloids last year when, 12 days before the big day, they found their story of the year: "CANNIBAL ATE UP BERLINER!" hollered the front page of Bild, Germany's best-selling tabloid.

It was Germany's introduction to Armin Meiwes, a 41-year-old computer expert and former soldier from the town of Rotenburg near Frankfurt. He lived with his mother until she died of cancer in 1999 when he was 37 years old. For the next year, he lived alone in the huge 44-room family home, passing his free time reading everything, from his huge collection of Donald Duck comics to biographies of famous serial killers.

His mother dead, he let loose the fantasies he first had in school of eating his fellow classmates. He even posted a personal ad on the Internet: "Seeking well-built man, 18-30 years old for slaughter." Among the many hoax replies was one that sounded genuine, from Bernd Brandes, a 42-year-old micro-electronics engineer with Siemens in Berlin.

He wrote: "I offer myself to you and will let you dine from my live body. Not butchery, dining! Whoever REALLY wants to do it will need a REAL VICTIM!" The two started swapping increasingly explicit e-mails and on March 9th 2001, Brandes took a day off work, never to return.

He sold everything he owned, including his treasured sports car, wiped his computer hard drive and bought a one-way ticket to Kassel, near Frankfurt.

Armin met him off the train, they bought painkillers at a chemist shop and headed back to the house.

At first Brandes got cold feet and wanted to return to Berlin, Meiwes said. But he reconsidered, swallowed painkillers and medication to make him sleepy and said: "Now do it." Meiwes set the video camera rolling and went to work with a kitchen knife.

"Then we went into the bathroom," Meiwes later told police. "Brandes lay in the bath so the blood could flow away." As Brandes slowly began to lose consciousness, Meiwes passed the time reading a Star Trek novel. When the Berliner finally passed out, Meiwes cut his throat.

After he consumed, over a number of months, the 30 kilos of flesh he had put in his freezer, Meiwes went on the Internet in search of a new victim. Frustrated that he could only find people looking for cannibal role plays, Meiwes began boasting about Brandes. Someone from the chat-room informed the federal police, who swooped on Armin Meiwes's house on December 10th last, surprising the coy cannibal and startling the unsuspecting neighbours.

"It was kind of clear to us that he had a different perspective on life than we did," said one neighbour dryly. "But he was a normal person to speak to, drink a glass of beer with - just like you and me." Meiwes admitted everything in custody and told police he was "furious" with himself for killing Brandes, whom he said he often sees before him. Since the killing he says he "doesn't feel so alone any more", leading criminal psychologists to believe they are dealing with a case of "sexual cannibalism", similar to Jeffrey Dahmer, who received a life sentence a decade ago in the US for killing and eating 17 people.

Meiwes's life-story could be straight from a psychological text book: abandoned by his father and two brothers as a child and left at home with a mother who dominated and humiliated him.

Psychologists say he is not mentally disturbed but sexually confused and emotionally unable to organise relationships in his head. Consuming human flesh is for him the ultimate intimate act.

Since cannibalism isn't a crime in Germany, Meiwes faces the charge of "murder for sexual satisfaction".

His lawyer will argue that the video evidence seized by police proves Meiwes "killed on demand" and that he should get five years for euthanasia, not 15 for murder.

For the next month, an anonymous courtroom in the central German city of Kassel will house a freak show. Media interest was so great - camera teams are arriving from as far away as South Korea - that press seats were raffled a month ago.

Meiwes says he will use his time in prison to write his memoirs that he hopes will discourage people with "similar opinions" to take up the knife.

He says he still cherishes the "intense, positive memories" he has of his first and last night with Bernd Brandes, but says he ultimately regrets what he did.