In 2001 a German by the name of Armin Meiwes placed an advert on a website called The Cannibal Café, calling for a “well-built male between eighteen and thirty to be slaughtered and consumed.” That’s not the amazing thing; no, the amazing thing is he got his meal, one Bernd Jürgen Brandes. Together the two began this black dinner with a particularly intimate part of the victim’s anatomy, though the details are just too awful to dwell on here. Needless to say, Meiwes ended by finishing on his own, his dining companion previously having lost his appetite along with his life.
I was reminded of the Cannibal of Rothenburg, as Meiwes was subsequently called, on reading about a new exhibition which recently opened in Berlin. Under the title of All Cannibals, the show is intended to make people face up to their repressed ‘appetites’.
It’s been a huge success, with Europe’s most dedicated meat eaters lining up at the entrance to a cultural abattoir, to be beguiled by fleshy art, all the way from Goya to Cindy Sherman. There they are, Hannibal Lectors one and all, drawn by the enduring fascination with anthropophagy. Yes, I’ve only just learned that that word exists too, as did my spellchecker!
This meat feast arrived in Berlin from Paris, where several people fainted, not being quite as carnivorous as the Germans, or quite as prepared to “confront basic human fears, desires, suffering and pain that is represented in the collected works”, the rationale behind the exhibition.
If you are in Berlin, which thankfully I am not, you might consider popping along. I feel I should warn you that, among other things, you will see a video by the artist Patty Chang, which appears to show her consuming one of her breasts. Don’t worry; it’s only a watermelon; so keep saying that as you watch. Another exhibit purports to be the skin of a man, laid out like a bear rug, the implication being that the rest of him has been eaten
“It’s disgusting”, said one Waltraud Kempner, quoted in the Times, “but that’s the point isn’t it – it’s about how we disgust ourselves.” Frau Kemper was not too disgusted, though, going on to meet friends for lunch, perhaps enjoying one of the curry sausages for which the city is renowned.
Jeanette Zwingenberger, the curator, said that the negative perception of cannibalism is “...a typical monotheistic European division between nature and culture.” Yes, I suppose it is, something I shall bear in mind the next time I watch a cannibal holocaust. No, I shall not; for like the squeamish Parisians, I have not the stomach for this feast, for blood, for flesh or for any form of cultural relativism. My loss, I feel sure.