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A child from Bahnhof Zoo – Christiane F. turns 50

She is the most famous drug addict in Germany, if not the world. Christiane F. is twelve years old when she comes into contact with drugs, at 14 she is addicted to heroine and prostitutes herself at the Zoo train station in Berlin. By chance, journalists Horst Rieck and Kai Hermann became aware of the youngsters in 1978 and wrote down their life stories according to tape recordings: The autobiographical book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo became an international bestseller and sold more than three million copies. The 1981 film of the same name received several awards. Christiane F. celebrated her 50th birthday on May 20, 2012.

From the Stern reportage to the bestseller

Berlin, early 1978. The journalist Horst Rieck writes a report on child prostitution for the news magazine star and gets to know the then 15-year-old Christiane as a witness at a court hearing. Together with his colleague Kai Hermann, he meets up with the former heroin addict for a two-hour interview. Two hours become two months in which Christiane portrays her life in meticulous descriptions. “She told stories in a fascinating way, she mostly talked ready for printing. The pictures were alive in the room, ”Horst Rieck recalls in one mirror TV-Contribution to the discussions with the ex-fixer. Nevertheless, Rieck and Hermann initially have problems finding a publisher for the manuscript. Even with the star, which later extracts the report as a preprint, the story is dismissed as a marginalized topic.

The authors could not have guessed the actual success of the book, even if they unwaveringly believed to hit the nerve of social interest. The Stern editions with the drug report reached the highest print runs. We children from Bahnhof Zoo, the title of the book, sensitized Germany and made drug addiction a hot topic at that time. An estimated 20 million Germans have the "Bible of the sneaker generation" (The time in the edition of April 3, 1981). In order to bring the reader as close as possible to Christiane’s life, the journalists chose the first-person perspective, in-between inserts from the mother or social workers that complement Christiane’s version of the story, but also contradict it. With a bold, youthful tone and striking openness, the book tells of Christianes Welt, her beloved clique and the discotheque “Sound”, her descent into the drug scene and how the Zoo train station and the children’s line become the dark playground of her fixer everyday life.

Realistic representation in the film

After the book found rousing sales, the fabric made it onto the canvas. The film adaptation of the bestseller pushed the career of film producer Bernd Eichinger, who in turn brought director Uli Edel on board. From the beginning, it became clear that the director was interested in the skirmishes concerned: "Just piss and shit everywhere", with that straightforward statement about the high-rise housing estate Gropiusstadt, the viewer is suddenly dragged into the reality of life of the 13-year-old Christiane. Dirty and pure, the film traces the stages of a drug career, without trying to put off clichés or the moral index finger. Bloody punctures are captured with almost microscopic quality. Edel takes the viewer to run-down fixer apartments, shows him sweaty and trembling bodies from withdrawal symptoms – and lands with his relentless presentation a cinematic coup: To this day, the film is one of the most successful in post-war Germany, and in 1981 he won the audience award at the Montreal Film Festival.

Every time Christiane makes another round in the downward spiral, for example when she reads the news of her friend Babsi’s death, the camera goes into slow motion. There are also other moments, scenes that the Spirit of anti-philistinism in German cinemas: When Christiane and her friends run to the music of David Bowie through the nocturnal Europa-Center, smash windows of ticket booths and watch the sunrise over Berlin, you actually think you have a group of young heroes in front of you , These images have often brought criticism to the film for heroically heroizing its protagonists. At the same time, they are a long-lasting fascination for adventure-hungry visitors to Berlin, who also searched Zoo station for Christiane when the scene had long since migrated to the Kottbusser Tor.

"I survived." The film ends with Christiane being transported to the country with grandma and aunt. Away from Berlin and the drugs. While the film heroine makes the jump, the life of the real Christiane branches off like the drug scene in Berlin: she becomes a regular guest on talk shows, appears as a singer and actress, her face adorns countless magazine covers. A drug addict becomes a drug idol, a role assignment that had to overwhelm.

Meanwhile, however, the media hype has subsided. Every now and then Christiane F. has given interviews in the past few years, but recently it has become quiet. Congratulations come quietly, but no less sincerely. Everything Happy 50th birthday!

Andreas M. Rauch:
Bernd Eichinger and his films (Haag and Herchen, 2000)

Christiane F .:
We children from Bahnhof Zoo (Carlsen Verlag, 8th edition 2009)

Copyright: Goethe-institute e. V., Internet editor
May 2012

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