Three Decades On, German Child Junkie Looks Back

by Kathy Jones on Oct 6 2013 10:49 PM

 Three Decades On, German Child Junkie Looks Back
The story of a 13-year-old girl shooting up heroin and working as a child prostitute on the gritty streets of 1970s West Berlin had shocked German readers a generation ago.
The harrowing biography of the pretty teenager, then identified only as Christiane F., sold more than four million copies, was turned into a movie guest-starring David Bowie and became a school textbook.

For many readers now, the biggest surprise about a new book by Christiane F., to be published Thursday during the Frankfurt Book Fair, is that its author is still alive.

"I'm still not dead," says the woman whose full name is Christiane Felscherinow.

"Hardly anyone would have believed that I'd turn 51 years old," she says in a short online video to promote her new book "Christiane F. - Mein Zweites Leben" (My Second Life).

"But look, here I am ... Many warned me, 'if you continue that way, you won't see 40'," she adds, her voice raspy but her face betraying surprisingly few signs of the years of drug abuse and turmoil that continued well into adulthood.

Felscherinow spent her teenage years in high-rise tower blocks in the west of what was then a divided Berlin, the daughter of a violent father and a working mother.

At age 12, she took hashish; by 13 she was into heroin, keen to fit in with the crowd she met at West Berlin's trendy "Sound" disco to escape her home life.

Caught in a spiral of addiction, crime and squalor, she joined other youngsters turning tricks to fund the habit around the city's Bahnhof Zoo railway station, even as friends died from overdoses around her.

Finally she was sent to stay with her grandmother in the country and beat the addiction.

'I was so clean'

Her path to fame started when she testified as a witness at a paedophile's trial and met a reporter for news weekly Stern.

Their initial interview turned into a three-month exchange, which led to a series of magazine articles and then the co-authored 1978 book "Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo" (We, Children of Bahnhof Zoo) -- simply titled "Christiane F." in the English version.

The gritty story cracked open a deadly world unknown to many, but its "hero", with her cool hairstyle, love of Bowie and candidness, also roused readers' sympathy.

Three years later followed a movie with a Bowie soundtrack and appearance. By now Christiane F. had become Germany's most famous junkie.

As a young adult, she was invited onto chat shows, and even flew to Los Angeles after the film's US release to appear on a radio show, and met rock and acting stars including Billy Idol.

But the story didn't end there, as she writes in her new book.

She fell back into old habits, cocaine initially and then "H", as it's referred to in the film.

"I was so clean that I no longer tolerated it," she writes. "I just puked again and again, even when my stomach was already empty.

"I know it sounds nuts; you puke your guts up but it feels like the loveliest thing in the world."

The "Second Life" autobiography, which Felscherinow presents in Frankfurt next Friday, is another disarmingly frank chronicle of rollercoaster years of drugs, withdrawal, adventures with rock and literary stars, and even a stint in jail.

It kicks off with life on a Greek island, where she fell in love, had an abortion and was eventually let down when her lover came out of jail and began an affair with his brother's girlfriend.

"Today I know that these years in Greece were the happiest of my life," she says in the book, co-written with journalist Sonja Vukovic.

The birth of her son, Phillip, in 1996 heralds hope and happiness.

"There was now this tiny being that needed me. And it was all I needed. Everything else didn't matter to me," she writes.

Felscherinow movingly describes her quest to be a good mother, striving for everyday routines to provide a stable family life: "The boy simply did me good. Through him I became a better person."

But in 2008 when she tried to move to Amsterdam, authorities took away custody.

She and Phillip went to the Netherlands, only to return six weeks later to Germany where he was placed with foster parents.

She later won custody rights back in 2010, but decided that the boy should stay with his foster parents instead, according to Stern.

The years have left other scars. Felscherinow has been on a methadone substitution programme for nearly 20 years, and she suffers from Hepatitis C.

But to many, she is a survivor, not afraid to look back with brutal honesty.

Last month, her face was again on the cover of Stern news weekly, with the same intense gaze and clean-cut pony tail, as a photo the magazine ran of her at age 16.

"With her sensitive gift of observation and precise memory, a determination and adventurous courage," wrote a Stern reporter, "she reported without self pity, unsparingly even against herself."


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