Grimm Love: Horror and Heritage in Rohtenburg

In the mid-2000s, not just one but three feature films about the highly publicized case of the anthropophagic Achim Meiwes—dubbed the Cannibal of Rotenburg by the tabloids—were made: Rosa von Praunheim’s avant-garde Mein Herz in deinem Hirn (Your Heart in my Head, 2005), Marian Dora’s transgressive low-budget shocker Cannibal (2005), and Martin Weisz’s English-language-production Rohtenburg (Grimm Love; 2006, not released until 2009), a testament to the public’s fascination with Meiwes as a person but equally as a mediated spectacle. In February of 2001, Meiwes had mutilated, killed, and partly eaten a man—Bernd Brandes—whom he had met in a darknet chat room and who had agreed to be Meiwes’s victim. Stefan Höltgen asks what it was that made the case so attractive for filmmakers and audiences, and concludes that these films provide “Zusammenhang, wo bislang nur Spekulation und Unwissenheit herrscht, indem […] die sattsam aus den Medien bekannten Fakten-Reihen zu einer Erzählung verknüpft [werden]“ (n.p.). Yet it must be noted that all three films refuse to provide clear-cut psychological explanations for Meiwes’s crime. In this paper I discuss Weisz’s variation of the “event,” Rohtenburg, a mid-budget production that interferes into the heritage film's renegotiation of the past which, as Jennifer Kapczynski notes, “often evince[s] a curious air of longing, even for the darkest moments of the German past”—a theme that permeates Rohtenburg on various levels (2016; 42). The viewer experiences small-town Germany through the eyes of Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell), an American graduate student who obsessively conducts on-site research on the cannibal Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann), the film’s proxy for Meiwes. I argue that Katie’s twice detached position—both as a foreigner and an academic—allows Weisz to align the viewer with the character’s “morbid curiosity” and her futile attempts at understanding and explaining the psychological processes subtending German postwar society through its "unmastered" past.

Author: Kai Werbeck