At first it seemed more like an innocent childhood confidence betrayed to some agony aunt than the confession of a cannibal.
Clad in a dark suit and a respectable black-and-white patterned silk tie, 42-year-old Armin Meiwes sat quietly in the dock of a court in the German city of Kassel yesterday and told judges what had driven him to kill a man and eat him.
"I felt completely alone. I wanted an imaginary brother. I dreamed of someone like the teenager Sandy in the American TV series Flipper," Meiwes told the court.
But then the so-called "Rotenburg cannibal" explained exactly what having a brother meant in his terms. "The fantasies were always the same - cut him open, take out the intestines and then cut up the flesh into pieces," he said.
Meiwes, appearing in court for the first time since his arrest in December 2002, is accused of using the internet to seek out "young men for real slaughter and consumption" and of murdering his victim, Bernd Jurgen Brandes, for "sexual satisfaction". During yesterday's hearing he confessed to killing Brandes, 41, at his home in March 2001 and eating parts of his victim's body, which he kept in his deep freeze. Prior to killing, Meiwes had cut off his victim's penis which both men consumed.
"I kissed him again, I prayed - also for forgiveness - and then I stabbed him," Meiwes said, adding Brandes had told him to cut off his penis. "He said to me, if I'm tired, cut the thing off. I want to experience it. Then when I am unconscious, stab me to death."
The trial, believed to be the first to involve a self-confessed cannibal and an apparently willing victim, has shocked public opinion, attracted global attention and left the German courts with a seemingly intractable legal problem. Yesterday the court heard how the former computer expert, who lived alone in a 44-room timbered farmhouse near the town of Rotenburg had advertised on the internet for a suitable victim in early 1999 under the pseudonym "Franky the master butcher."
Eighteen months later he aroused the interest of Brandes, an unmarried Berlin computer engineer who worked for the electronics giant Siemens. The state prosecutor, Marcus Koehler, said Brandes "suffered from severe psychological problems and felt a desire to destroy himself". Meiwes' lawyer said Brandes "could not wait to be eaten".
The two met at Meiwes' home on 9 March.Meiwes earlier this year told Stern magazine that Brandes had drugged himself with sleeping pills and two bottles of a cold remedy before the cannibalistic ritual.
He told the magazine how the two cuddled on the floor of a specially designed slaughter chamber in Meiwes' attic before Brandes urged his internet acquaintance to "cut the thing off".
Meiwes said he grabbed a kitchen knife, switched on a video camera and severed the organ. Brandes was bleeding profusely. But Meiwes bound the wound, cut the penis in two and fried it. The two ate it with salt, pepper and garlic. Meiwes told Stern that it tasted "tough and unpalatable".
Harald Ermel, Meiwes's lawyer, said yesterday that Brandes took nearly 10 hours to bleed to death from wounds inflicted by Meiwes and that he had repeatedly urged him to keep on cutting him. "He believes he ate about 20 kilograms of the flesh," Mr Ermel said. "He defrosted it little by little and ate it. There were about 10 kilograms left over when police found him."
Mr Koehler said Meiwes frequently watched the video he had taken and masturbated. Meiwes said yesterday that he felt "hatred, fury and joy" while killing Brandes. "It was almost like Communion - belief and the memory of the person are renewed," he said.
Meiwes searched for likely victims on the internet for a further 18 months. He lured four men to his home, including one man from London. Meiwes told Stern that he wrapped them in cellophane and even marked out their body parts for possible consumption. However after they said they were merely interested in acting out their fantasies, rather than dying, he let them go.
"There was a teacher, a cook, a hotel employee and a student. He had them hanging from the ceiling head down and they had no chance of freeing themselves. One felt sick, the other didn't want to go on, so he let them all down," Meiwes's lawyer said. Meiwes said he had contacted at least 400 people on the internet who showed interest in cannibalism. "There are hundreds and thousands of people out there who want to be eaten," he said.
He was unmasked after a student saw his internet advertisements and tipped off police. They found Brandes's body parts in his freezer. Meiwes's defence was that he killed a man who "wanted to be killed".
Meiwes tried to offer a psychological explanation yesterday. He told the court that he was brought up alone in the Rotenburg farmhouse by his dominant mother after his father and his two brothers left home when he was eight. "I felt totally alone. I imagined that somebody could be with me and never leave me again," he said.
He said he started having cannibalistic fantasies at about that time which involved binding an imaginary brother to him forever by killing and eating him. "The idea turned me on sexually. I wanted him to be slim and blond," he said. Meiwes said he frequently watched American zombie films on television and enjoyed witnessing farm animals being slaughtered.
German psychiatrists say the killing is far from unique. "This is cannibalism as a sexual perversion, it's a phenomenon that has been known about for centuries," said Professor Andreas Marneros, director of the Halle Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, "I have examined four such people."
More perplexing for the judges is the legal dilemma the case poses. Prosecutors have disclosed that a psychiatric examination of Meiwes found that he was not insane. But they have acknowledged that Brandes said he wanted to die, although he may not have been capable of rational thought.
The prosecution has asked judges to convict Meiwes of "murder motivated by sexual urges", which carries a life sentence. However Meiwes's lawyers say he should be convicted of "killing on request", a form of illegal euthanasia that carries a maximum five years.
Legal experts said the judges could find it difficult to sentence Meiwes for murder, given that his victim wanted to be eaten. "This is killing undertaken for both killer and victim and cannot be regarded as the worst case of premeditated killing," said Professor Arthur Kreuzer, a criminologist at Giessen University.
A verdict is expected on 30 January. Meiwes had started his autobiography and had made at least 20 friends in prison, his lawyer said.
A TASTE FOR HUMAN FLESH
* The last alleged case of cannibalism in Germany was when a 33-year-old man claimed at his trial for murder and robbery in 1995 that he had eaten his victim's innards.
* Two German serial killers were suspected of eating parts of their victims. Karl Denke, who killed 31 people between 1914 and 1918, had pans of pickled human flesh in his home. Fritz Haarmann drank the blood of the 26 men he murdered between 1918 and 1924.
* Jeffrey Dahmer was imprisoned for life in the United States in 1992 for the murders of 17 men and boys. Neighbours complained of the smell of rotten meat coming from his apartment and the noise of a circular saw at night.
* Andrei Tschikatilo, a Russian who was executed in 1992, is alleged to have eaten the sex organs of some of his 52 victims.