In 2017, a German man who goes by the name Marco came across an article in a Berlin newspaper with a photograph of a professor he recognized from childhood. The first thing he noticed was the man's lips. They were thin, almost nonexistent, a trait that Marco had always found repellent. He was surprised to read that the professor, Helmut Kentler, had been one of the most influential sexologists in Germany. The article described a new research report that had investigated what was called the "Kentler experiment." Beginning in the late sixties, Kentler had placed neglected children in foster homes run by pedophiles. The experiment was authorized and financially supported by the Berlin Senate. In a report submitted to the Senate, in 1988, Kentler had described it as a "complete success."
Marco had grown up in foster care, and his foster father had frequently taken him to Kentler's home. Now he was thirty-four, with a one-year-old daughter, and her meals and naps structured his days. After he read the article, he said, "I just pushed it aside. I didn't react emotionally. I did what I do every day: nothing, really. I sat around in front of the computer."
Marco looks like a movie star—he is tanned, with a firm jaw, thick dark hair, and a long, symmetrical face. As an adult, he has cried only once. "If someone were to die in front of me, I would of course want to help them, but it wouldn't affect me emotionally," he told me. "I have a wall, and emotions just hit against it." He lived with his girlfriend, a hairdresser, but they never discussed his childhood. He was unemployed. Once, he tried to work as a mailman, but after a few days he quit, because whenever a stranger made an expression that reminded him of his foster father, an engineer named Fritz Henkel, he had the sensation that he was not actually alive, that his heart had stopped beating, and that the color had drained from the world. When he tried to speak, it felt as if his voice didn't belong to him.