Armin Meiwes, aka the Rotenburg Cannibal

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A few decades ago, Armin Meiwes seemed like any other resident living near Rotenburg an der Fulda, a quiet town in Germany. But in 2001, Armin Meiwes acted on a long-held hidden desire, leading to events that made him infamous and left a man named Bernd-Jürgen Armando Brandes dead. The case shocked the world and raised profound questions about personal freedoms, consent, and the limits of criminal law.

Warning: This look at a relatively recent true crime case includes gruesome details, some of which you may have already guessed based on the title. Please proceed with caution.

Where is Rotenburg an der Fulda?

Rotenburg an der Fulda, or just Rotenburg for short, is a small, charming town in Germany known for its historic architecture. It's situated on the Fulda River, which offers tranquil views for walks and boat rides.

Google Map showing the location of Rotenburg an der Fulda.
Rotenburg an der Fulda.

Rotenburg is renowned for the picturesque half-timbered homes that line the narrow streets of its historic town center, giving the place a distinctly medieval charm.

Half-timbered houses lining the riverbank in Rotenburg an der Fulda, with a pedestrian bridge crossing over the calm river under a clear blue sky with few clouds.
Historic row homes in Rotenburg.

There's even a castle, known as Schloss Rotenburg, that gives the town a fairy tale feel. It really looks like the setting of an animated children's film, perhaps made by a world-famous animation studio whose rodent mascot wears white gloves, apples are best avoided, and every young royal has a song in their heart, questionable body proportions, and a problem that can be solved in ninety minutes, plus or minus a heartwarming moral.

Rotenburg Castle in Rotenburg an der Fulda, featuring white walls with red trimming, surrounded by budding spring trees against a blue sky with scattered clouds.
Rotenburg Castle in Rotenburg an der Fulda.

It just so happens that the Brothers Grimm of fairy tale fame spent time in Rotenburg during their travels across Germany, and the town is said to have inspired some of their stories.

Old Fulda Bridge in Rotenburg, Germany, taken at dusk with overcast skies. The bridge's distinctive modern arch design is featured, along with the town's traditional half-timbered buildings in the background, including a church with a prominent spire.
Old Fulda Bridge in Rotenburg.

Picturesque towns like Rotenburg are probably the farthest thing from your mind when you think of true crime cases. However, even quaint towns that look like they belong in fairy tales have their own strange stories, and some might say that even cannibals live next door to someone.

Daytime photo of a historic street in Rotenburg an der Fulda, Germany, showcasing traditional half-timbered houses with a backdrop of a clear blue sky, a cobblestone street leading to an arched bridge, and the spire of a church in the distance.
Historic street in Rotenburg.

Who is Armin Meiwes?

Meet Armin Meiwes, the Rotenburg Cannibal, aka Der Metzgermeister, which means "The Master Butcher."

Close-up photo of a man in a blue shirt, slightly smirking with one eyebrow raised, indoors with a neutral background.
Armin Meiwes.

Armin Meiwes was born in 1961 in Essen, West Germany. His father abandoned Armin at age eight, leaving him to be raised by Armin's mother, Waltraud. Around the same time, Armin became fascinated by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel"—out of which he developed a desire to engage in cannibalism.

Warning: It's about to get gruesome. If you're thinking about stopping reading, do it now.

Later, as an adult, he moved to the hamlet of Wüstefeld, Germany, in Rotenburg an der Fulda, and worked as a computer repair technician. His childhood fascination with cannibalism stuck with him throughout his life. He found and frequented internet forums related to cannibalism and extreme fetishes, and it was in these same online forums that he finally pursued his childhood dream.

The Story of Consensual Cannibalism

In March of 2001, Armin Meiwes posted a message to a forum called the Cannibal Café. I've found what I believe to be the original post, but it's difficult to verify its authenticity, so I won't link to it here. In the post, Armin stated that he was "looking for a well-built 18- to 25-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed."

Warning: Seriously. Last warning.

Several people replied to Armin's post, and all but one backed out when it became apparent that Armin was serious. A 43-year-old engineer from Berlin named Bernd-Jürgen Armando Brandes replied to the post but didn't back out. As it turned out, Brandes wanted to be slaughtered and cannibalized—and even wanted to consume parts of himself during the process.

It was a macabre match.

On March 9, 2001, Brandes traveled on a one-way ticket to visit Armin Meiwes. There's a lot of speculation about Brandes's mental state during this time, whether or not he suffered from disorder(s), and how his background might have played into the choices that led him into Armin Meiwes's life in this way. Unfortunately, there is no way we will ever have answers to any of the questions surrounding Bernd-Jürgen Armando Brandes because, by that night, Brandes was dead.

When Brandes arrived at Meiwes's home that day, they introduced themselves and got to business. Together, they made a videotape that reportedly shows Brandes explicitly consenting to the acts that followed, including his own death at the hands of Meiwes. The videotape was never made public, so again, there's no way to verify this except for the reports from the courtroom during the subsequent trial.

In addition to Brandes consenting to be killed and eaten, it also contained footage of some (or all?) of the actual events. The video goes on to show Brandes again explicitly consenting to be killed and eaten, and then taking twenty sleeping pills and drinking an entire bottle of cough syrup. Brandes then asks Meiwes to bite off his penis. Meiwes tries, but it's too hard to bite through. He gives up and amputates Brandes's penis with a knife. The two try to eat it, but it's too tough and "chewy." So, Meiwes then takes some of Brandes's fat from his body and fries up Brandes's penis with some salt, pepper, wine, and garlic. It came out too burnt to eat, and by then, Brandes had lost so much blood that he was too weak to try and eat.

Meiwes ran a bath for Brandes, put him in, and went to read a book. He checked on Brandes every fifteen minutes while Brandes drifted in and out of consciousness. After some time and after a long prayer, Meiwes went into the bathroom, stabbed Brandes in the throat, and then hung him from a meat hook. Meiwes then beheaded and dismembered Brandes's corpse and stored parts of Brandes in his freezer.

The entire ordeal was recorded on a four-hour-long videotape—a tape that was shown in its entirety during the trial of Armin Meiwes.

Between the day Brandes died and the later trial, Armin Meiwes consumed an estimated 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of flesh that he stored.

The Aftermath

The case came to light in December 2002 when Meiwes posted a new message online seeking another person to be killed and consumed. A college student alerted authorities to the message, which led investigators straight to Armin Meiwes's home, where they discovered the videotape and frozen parts of Brandes.

"They should go for treatment so it doesn't escalate like it did with me."

— Armin Meiwes

About two years later, Armin Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and not murder because Brandes consented to his own death. Armin was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison. Prosecutors pushed for a retrial, claiming that Armin Meiwes should have been convicted of murder, and in April 2005, a German court ordered the retrial. The outcome of the second trial was a murder conviction and life imprisonment. The retrial and murder conviction hinged on a few interesting legal takes around whether or not one can consent to be the victim of a crime, precisely what murder means, how a person's motive plays into it, and whether or not Armin Meiwes might do it again.

During both trials, Meiwes freely admitted to the events with Brandes; his defense was that Brandes consented to everything that happened. Note here that Armin Meiwes was never charged with cannibalism because, at the time, cannibalism wasn't a crime in Germany. The Meiwes case promoted a near-worldwide reevaluation of legal definitions of things like homicide and consent, leading to greater clarity between murder and manslaughter, among other things. It also highlighted the need to better understand possible disorders and how they should be diagnosed, evaluated, and treated within the legal system.

In addition to reevaluating legal systems, the case also drew attention to the role of the Internet in facilitating these types of activities. Many countries only talked about making changes, but few did anything of any real substance, pushing the responsibility mostly into the hands of Internet site operators. The effectiveness of the measures taken and ideas for new measures are subjects of ongoing debates that attempt to balance freedom of expression with protection against harm.

As of April 2022, cannibalism still seems to be..."not illegal" in Germany—and most other parts of the world. I say "not illegal" to distinguish it from "legal" because most of the events necessary to engage in cannibalism are illegal almost everywhere in the world. And, legally speaking, how far should your right to make autonomous decisions about your own body and life go? Should there be a line at all?

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