The Return of Christiane F

January 17, 2014
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She is a legend of the halcyon seventies, the P.R. puff-piece says. Christiane Felscherinow a/k/a Christine F is back with a bang in some surroundings and a whimper in others. Her green eyes are still beautiful, although the saddlebags under them looked puffed. The Christiane F of now, dressed in haute couture clothing while standing next to a poster of herself as a raggedy, young sort of hippie, seems only vaguely incongruous.

Felscherinow is visiting a book fair to promote herself. First there is the rerelease of the 1979 book and a recut version of the film, Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, or Christiane F. – We Children from Zoo Station, which made her Germany’s most famous heroin addict since Hermann Goering. It was a huge, boffo bestseller 35 years ago. Along with the re-release there is a new book, the rest of her story.

She gives a short reading from the new work and one look at her hands shows that this work is not going to be some sort of American-style redemption story.  Her hands show a chiaroscuro of scars, divots and collapsed veins so raw that it’s pretty clear she’s still using.

Felscherinow was twelve when she tried hashish before quickly moving on to heroin, and becoming an experienced prostitute at fourteen. From a small town next to Potsdam with an alcoholic father and a bipolar mother, she ran away to trendy, anonymous Berlin. At fifteen was already a sort of jaded celebrity freak, but, having been ‘discovered’ in a nightclub she took the help offered by the film’s producer, Bernd Eichinger, and moved away from Berlin to live in her grandmother’s strict household. Yet she still isn’t drug-free today.

Five million copies of her story were sold. The book is still required reading in German schools and Eichinger’s harrowing film is still a worldwide cult favorite. Felscherinow, now 51, is not spectacularly wealthy, but has to cope with a serious illness, hepatitis C. The IV-born disease has destroyed her liver. “I wanted everybody to know what happened to me,” she says comfortably in English.

Felscherinow spent three years working with a co-author, Sonja Vukovic, recording conversations and reconstructing memories. “A junkie constantly deceives herself. I can’t get clean. Being clean is what everyone else has expected of me.” She started the day by smoking two joints in the morning, she says, before taking prescribed methadone as she has done as a government registered addict for over 20 years. Along with 75,000 others in Germany, she insists I write in my notebook. Still, sometimes the methadone isn’t enough and she buys a little smack. Sometimes, she says, she hallucinates. Indeed, years ago she lost custody of her twelve-year-old son after a social worker gave up on her. He has been living with a foster family since then.  This portion of her life is tragic,

There’s also rock and roll. By the age of 18, she had made nearly 500,000 deutsche marks in royalties from her first book, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine. After falling in love with Alexander Hacke, a guitarist with the German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, she befriended David Bowie and Nina Hagen, and even made a record of her own. When Eichinger’s film about her life premiered in the United States, she traveled to Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago and was feted as a sort of junkie-princess. Having become friends with the owners of the Diogenes publishing house in Switzerland, she was a part-time guest at their house in Zurich, although she also kept a separate domicile with scores of junkie friends in the city’s main railroad station. Buddies with the late Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt at dinner parties and director Federico Fellini in Rome, she even went hiking in the mountains of Sils Maria with the German humorist Loriot, a//k/a Vicco von Bülow. “I should have gotten my act together plenty of times back then, but I was bored,” she says rather theatrically.

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