In 1975, 12-year-old Christiane Felscherinow (Natja Brunckhorst) lives with her mother and little sister in a small apartment in a typical multi-story concrete social-housing building in a dull neighbourhood in the outskirts of West Berlin. She’s sick and tired of living there and has a passion for singer David Bowie. She hears of Sound, a new disco in the city centre, labelled as the most modern discothèque in Europe. Although she’s legally too young to go there, she dresses up in high heels, wears makeup, and asks a friend from school, who hangs out there regularly, to take her, too. At the disco, she meets Detlef (Thomas Haustein), who is a little older and is in a clique where everybody experiments with various drugs. At first she takes pills and LSD, and goes to a David Bowie concert in which she meets Babsi, a girl of her same age and tendencies, and tries heroin for the first time by snorting it. But soon after Christiane falls in love with Detlef, and in order to be closer to him begins using heroin on a regular basis, gradually delving deeper into the drug and ending up as a full-blown addict. As her time at home is replaced with time spent at her cohorts’ unkempt apartment, she is also drawn to the seedy Bahnhof Zoo scene, a large railway and subway station notorious for the drug and sex trade in its underpasses and backalleys…

Both the movie and the book acquired cult status in Europe immediately after release, raising awareness of heroin addiction. The popularity of the movie was greatly boosted by David Bowie’s participation as both himself (portrayed giving a concert early in the movie) and as the main contributor to the soundtrack. Bowie’s music from his albums made in Berlin during 1976-77 is heavily featured throughout the picture, and as he was at the very peak of his popularity during the late 1970s-early 1980s, his presence helped boost the film’s commercial success. The film shocked European audiences. The heroin plague that swept Western Europe between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s had yet to become apparent to the public, and it did just after the film’s release, with the epidemic killing a significant number of European youth. The film depicted in very realistic detail all the proceedings of heroin addiction: hustling and scoring, shooting up, the effects of heavy drug withdrawal and heavy drug usage, the thinning of the body and the shootup scars, the socialising in rundown neighbourhoods such as peripheral train stations, back alleys, often too high to keep one’s eyes open and dropping onto the floor in a stupor, scenes all too familiar to urban citizens in West Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and France in those years. The movie, shot with a low budget in 1980 and released in 1981, but set between 1975 and 1977 in West Berlin, in what was then West Germany, is much leaner than the autobiographical book it portrays. It skips altogether the beginning and also the end of the book, and concentrates on the main central part starting when Christiane begins her nightlife in Berlin at just around 13, and stops rather abruptly after her suicide attempt by mentioning she recovered. Christiane F. (born Vera Christiane Felscherinow on 20 May 1962) an actress/musician and in real life never fully recovered nor her woes ended with her being carried away to Hamburg to begin withdrawal, but the movie focusses on the main addiction portrayal. The cinematography is very bleak and livid, depicting a dilapidated, working-class Berlin with rundown structures and unclean, unkempt settings. Berlin today is rather different and the majority of landmarks from the movie (the station, the Bulow street stalls, the Sound discothèque) are either gone for good or completely remodeled. The film is played mainly by first-time actors, the majority of which were still in school at the time and have not pursued acting careers since. Only Natja Brunckhorst remained in German movies and television, starting with 1982’s Querelle by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, another lurid-themed film. Most of the extras at the railway station and at the Sound club were in fact actual junkies, prostitutes and low-lifes rounded up by producers just for those crowded scenes. In a special scene where Christiane runs the alleys of the station to find girlfriend Babsi before learning she is dead, the camera lingers on several last-stage junkies leaning along walls of the underpasses. In a 2011 interview, Thomas Haustein, who plays Detlev and was still in school at the time, recalls being severely frightened by being surrounded by all those real-life addicts but that he also successfully copied their behaviour for his character. Most shootup, nudity and sex scenes involving such underage actors in such graphic detail would not be permitted by today’s legal standards; at the time, however, it only required a written letter of consent from the parents to proceed with filming. “Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” is one of those movies I reckon you should´ve seen and it´s been on my list forever. Maybe due to everything I have heard about it, I have had an uneasy feeling about seeing it. We get an ugly, gritty, dirty and very unglamorous look upon the heavy drug scene in West Berlin in the late 70´s and it´s not pretty. Christiane F. wants something else in life than living in an plattenbau housing in the outskirts in Berlin and sees the nightlife in the city centre of Berlin as her saviour to something more glamorous and maybe a step closer to her musical hero David Bowie. Berlin is showed in the movie more or less like a runned down colourless city with zombielike people with a compulsory need to use each other in all sorts of ways. Despite the fact that most of the actors are first time actors and that their acting is maybe not on the spot all the time, it creates almost a documentary feeling and what you see feels “real”. Natja Brunckhorst does a great job as Christiane F. with her doe eyes, straight hair and lanky looks. The real Christiane F. was as well quite an attractive girl back in the early 80´s. The participation of David Bowie and his great music is vital for the movie and it gives a great lift to the storyline. And I reckon with his own drug experience in Berlin in the mid 70´s he would´ve been able to contribute with his life stories to the movie. “Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” should be shown in schools to get young peoples attention to what drugs can do to your life. “Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” is still of big importance in 2013. (4 and a half out of 5)

christiane-f-vintage-movie-poster-original-german-a1-23x33-1075