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Love at first bite

Gay cannibals in Germany

To those living in the small German town of Rotenburg, Armin Meiwes was the perfect neighbour. The family next door recall how he mowed their lawn, repaired their car and even invited them round for dinner. His workmates liked him and his lawyer described him as an old-fashioned gentleman. But the 42-year-old computer expert privately inhabited a dark and bizarre world.

The mild-mannered and well-groomed computer technician, grew up in a rural village farmhouse next door to a self-professed witch who was once taken to court for casting death spells. It was precisely the kind of setting one finds in fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

As a child, he remembered his mother Waltraud Meiwes inviting the lady next door over for afternoon coffee, talking about spells and curses and witchcraft.

He himself had sexual fantasies about other boys - twisted fantasies in which he would invite them home and carve them up and cook them and eat them. He had a childhood obsession with the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", and was especially fascinated by the passage in which the storybook witch "fattened up little Hansel" in hopes of cooking and eating him.

In the mid 1970's when Armin was sixteen he moved with his mother to another big house in the countryside in the village of Rotenburg. His parents had divorced when he was 8 and he rarely saw his policeman father or two step-brothers again.

Witnesses told the court Meiwes was firmly under the thumb of his mother, who ordered him about the house "like a sergeant" and who accompanied him on his rare dates with women and who even insisted on accompanying him on field exercises when he was in the military.

"The other soldiers in his company thought that was pretty weird, to say the least," a witness testified.

When he was 20 she even had the temerity to post a stick-on label saying "Kinderzimmer" (Child's Room) on the door of Armin's bedroom. He never removed the label, the witness said, even after his mother died in 1999. "He was a mama's boy," a neighbour told reporters. "He was totally fixated on his mother. After she died, he began to thaw out."

It was only then that Meiwes began to look for a way to act out the fantasies he had been harbouring for so long. No one in the village had any inkling of what he was planning.

In March 2001 Meiwes advertised on the internet for a "young well-built man, who wanted to be eaten". He had hundreds of replies. One came from Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, 39, himself a computer analyst with a Berlin information technologies company, who had his own "Hansel and Gretel" obsession.

Brandes' fantasy was to be castrated and mutilated. He dreamt of being taken bodily into another man - being ingested - becoming one with another man. Prosecutors at the trial said that although Meiwes was sane, Brandes was suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder and "a strong desire for self-destruction". However, before setting off on his one-way journey to Rotenburg, Brandes was, outwardly at least, a successful, financially secure professional.

Meiwes told the court that he had felt deprived and neglected as a child after his father walked out on the family. He had fantasised about having a blond "younger brother", who he could keep forever by "consuming him".

On the evening of March 9, Meiwes and Brandes met up and returned to the house in Rotenburg. Up in Meiwes' bedroom Brandes swallowed 20 sleeping tablets and half a bottle of schnapps. Brandes and Meiwes had agreed on the course of events that would follow. In the videotape made by Meiwes of the entire evening, Brandes is apparently seen giving his full and uncoerced consent. (The tape is so disturbing that the detectives working on the case needed counselling after viewing it.)

Brandes had insisted that the first step should be for Meiwes to cut his penis off so that it could be cooked and eaten by the two of them before he died. After several attempts Meiwes succeeded with the amputation. Meiwes then started frying his portion but Brandes prefered to try to eat the other half of his own penis raw, although he didn't manage because it was, as he put it, "too tough and chewy".

Brandes - by this stage bleeding heavily - then took a bath, while Meiwes read a Star Trek novel

In the early hours of the morning, Meiwes finished off his victim by stabbing him in the neck with a large kitchen knife, kissing him first and then allowing him to bleed to death. The cannibal then chopped Mr Brandes into pieces and put several bits of him in his freezer, next to a takeaway pizza, and buried the skull in his garden.

Over the next few weeks, he defrosted and cooked parts of Mr Brandes in olive oil and garlic, eventually consuming 20kg of human flesh before police finally turned up at his door. For the meals, he had got out his best cutlery and decorated his dinner table with candles. Apparently, Brandes tasted of pork. "With every bite, my memory of him grew stronger," he said.

In a final statement to the court he said that he felt regret but no real remorse. He regrets having been caught, but he feels no remorse for what he did.

"I took his life, and I readily admit that," the tight-lipped man with the hazel eyes and receding brown hair told the court matter-of-factly. "But I want the court to understand that I did nothing that ran contrary to his express wishes."

"He wanted it so badly. It was his heart's desire," Meiwes said of Brandes' death wish, adding that he himself had had "the kick of a lifetime".

At the end of the trial he was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight and a half years behind bars.

Meiwes has also talked about the "incredible feeling" he got having "ultimate power over another man and slicing him up into individual portions." The cannibal said that after eating Brandes he felt much better and more stable.

One bizarre detail of special interest for those learning English is that after the act of cannibalism Meiwes felt his command of the English language had improved. Brandes spoke good English, he said, and after eating the man his English was noticeably better.