Within a year of its release, Christiane F was the most popular film in German history, out-grossing every movie ever made in that country.
It’s the violently realistic account of a 13-year-old girl who became a prostitute in the Zoo railway station in Berlin to finance her heroin addiction, told in harrowing detail taken directly from the sensational autobiography that began as a series of investigative articles in the German magazine Stern and ended in a best-selling book that was later translated into English.
The film was made by Ulrich Edel, a graduate of a Munich film school, and – like the book – developed something of a cult following among teenagers as a warning against drug addiction.
European adolescents lined up to see it again and again, and German audiences labelled it “today’s Rebel Without a Cause.”
Christiane F. begins smoking pot and popping pills at the age of 12 in a church youth club. At 13 she takes to the needle to gain peer acceptance after a David Bowie concert. She speedily finds her life falling to pieces.
Sex with her boyfriend (who sidelines as a homosexual prostitute) leads to her hitting the streets after school as a child prostitute to pay for their growing habits.
Trying to cure each other by locking themselves in a dark room, they explode with vomit all over the walls, the sheets and each other. Things get worse when she’s injecting in a public toilet and another junkie bursts out of an adjacent urinal to wrestle the syringe from her hands.
The movie drags on and on, with endless close-ups of hypodermics being jammed into tongues and jugular veins until only the strongest stomachs are likely to survive. The film deals almost exclusively with the effects of drugs, not the causes. And there are never any adults around to help or care.
Christiane (realistically played by a courageous child named Natja Brunkhorst, who became such a big star she was forced to leave Germany in order to continue her schooling in peace) luckily manages to cure herself and survive, but there are still an estimated 50,000 teenage addicts left behind who are fighting for their lives in filthy toilets and bedrooms,
The movie uses actual locations referenced in the autobiography of the real-life Christiane F. They are Neukölln’s high-rise social housing, the Sound discotheque where Night of the Living Dead (1968) screens to tripped-out teenagers, Bahnhof Zoo, a railway station and rendezvous for drifters, and public toilets – like beacons in the night – where Christiane goes to use.
No solution is offered for their predicament. Nor is it mentioned that at the time this film was made, West Germany’s increasing drug problem was closely related to the large number of American military bases nearby.
Jan Georg Effler
Max the Stammerer