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Christiane F movie Raf Simons teen drugs

The Bowie-soundtracked teen drug film that inspired Raf Simons

Three things you need to know about cult movie Christiane F.

Having already referenced her back in AW01, yesterday designer Raf Simons put the story of cult cinema’s most famous teenage drug addict back on the map in his AW18 collection. The life of Christiane F. has “long occupied a pivotal place” in the designer’s imagination – ever since he read the 1978 book about her life, Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo, back in high school.

There are some that refer to its film adaption Christiane F. (1981) as the perfect piece of anti-heroin propaganda. Based on a true story, it’s a barren and hopeless depiction of youth lost – showing kids going through withdrawals and injecting in filthy public bathrooms. Immediately controversial on its release, some critics said the opposite – that it glamorised addiction, making teens think that a Bowie-soundtracked, opiate-induced haze is an ideal state of being. Even the film’s Berlin subway station set of Bahnhof Zoo became a weird kind of tourist destination after the film’s release.

Whatever your moral standpoint, what makes this cult film by Uli Edel striking is that unlike America’s pearl-clutching anti-drug PSAs, it stems from the real, multifaceted reality of addiction. It acknowledges the fascination many have with drugs, and is told through the eyes of a real teenage girl who had a terrible family life, not much of a future and was in love with music as well as heroin.


The interviews with 16-year-old Vera Christiane Felscherinow (the real Christiane F.), which would eventually become the autobiographical book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo were initially recorded as part of an exposé on the boom of teenage drug consumption in West Berlin back in 1978.

Journalists Kai Hermann and Horst Riekt of German weekly magazine Stern met Christiane when she gave testimony against a man who would pay underage sex workers with heroin. After speaking with her, they went on to spend two months interviewing both Christiane and her friends and acquaintances who worked around Bahnhof Zoo train station, as well as her family. The result was published in 1978, as a first-person account of four years of teenage addiction.

Since then, F. has published a new biography, entitled My Second Life. There, she details what has happened since the films’ release, as well as her ongoing battle with opiates.


And not only that, Christiane F. was also director Uli Edel’s first ever feature film. Natja Brunckhorst (Christiane), whose raw performance and faded red hair became iconic at the time, was only 14 when she was cast and was the only one of the actors who continued to pursue a career in the field, going on to act in another controversial film, Querelle.

Thomas Haustein, who played Christiane’s similarly-addicted boyfriend Detlev, was spotted and cast at the age of 14 outside of Sound – a club that is also featured in the film – and is now apparently a social worker who specialises in addiction.

Many of the people shown shooting up in the background of scenes shot at the Bahnhof Zoo were real-life addicts, some known by Christiane herself. A 1982 New York Times piece reported that in the production notes, Edel added: “The cast was so natural you'd think they had been either actors or junkies all their lives. The fact is that not one of them had any stage experience whatsoever and only one had ever had experience with heroin.”


Staying true to the real-life account of Christiane’s first experience taking heroin at a David Bowie concert in Berlin, the musician offered to make an unexpected cameo in one of the most iconic scenes of the film – singing “Station to Station” on the smoky stage of a performance hall (which was actually recorded in New York), as the character watched him from the audience.

The singer went on to be a big part of the film’s soundtrack, with “Heroes” becoming Christiane F.’s unofficial theme song, echoing through the halls as her and her friends run from the police. Bowie’s presence drew a lot of initially unexpected attention to the release, which would otherwise probably remain as a niche cult creation. 

Bowie attended the premiere arm-in-arm with real-life Christiane – who later recounted how she had to take a lot of cocaine to get over her nerves, but also added the mystique disappeared in the light of real life. “I met him for the first time when we were approving the final version of the Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo film. Bowie and I were supposed to sign off on it.” She told Exberliner. “They flew me to Lausanne, where he lived back then, and I was mega-nervous. But when I saw him, I was disappointed. He was small and thin and had a black ‘stache like my father.”