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Josiah Ramirez
Josiah Ramirez

Christiane F My Second Life Book

There were some pretty explicit scenes of drug use in Christiane F. But then there was the Bowie soundtrack. Do you think the film scared people away from heroin or glamorized it?Not everyone was put off by it. We soon had the problem that many young people thought that what I'd experienced was glamorous and romantic. Even when the book became a required text in schools, I noticed that kids were more fascinated than upset about what they read. So Stern [publishing] published a factbook, which they handed to teachers and parents, with information about how to deal with teens who were fascinated by the story of Christiane F. I hope that My Second Life scares people away from taking drugs more than my first book. I'm quite sure it will. It describes how much pain I've had in my life, and [explains] that I will die a very early and painful death.

christiane f my second life book

A generation ago, German readers were shocked and fascinated by 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. 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."

In 1979, the Stern publishing house published a book based on the interviews, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. The book chronicles Felscherinow's life from 1975 to 1978, between the ages of 12 and 15 years, and depicts several of Felscherinow's friends, along with other drug users, as well as scenes from typical locations of the Berlin drug scene at the time. The narrative of the book is in the first person, from Felscherinow's viewpoint, but was written by the journalists functioning as ghostwriters.[2] Others, such as Felscherinow's mother and various people who witnessed the escalating drug situation in Berlin at the time, also contributed to the book.

On 10 October 2013, Felscherinow released a new autobiographical book titled Mein Zweites Leben (My Second Life)[11] in which she elaborates on her life following the release of the Christiane F. book. In a promotional interview, prior to the autobiography's release date, Felscherinow revealed her motivation for writing the second book: "No, there's no message [in the book]. It was just that I wanted to make a counterstatement. There was all that junk, all the headlines! I finally wanted to describe what it was really like."[3] However, she counters this statement in a December 2013 interview:

I hope that My Second Life scares people away from taking drugs more than my first book. I'm quite sure it will. It describes how much pain I've had in my life, and [explains] that I will die a very early and painful death.[1]

Perhaps this perspective makes it possible to endure a life like hers. At any rate, the hopes that came with being subjected to her grandmother's strict regimen at 15 remain unfulfilled. She has gone through countless withdrawals and had countless relapses. She was convicted on a drug offense and spent 10 months in a women's prison. She had several abortions and failed relationships. She dropped out of a training program in bookkeeping, spent seven years in Greece without a permanent home, contracted hepatitis C and has few friends today, although many people are all too willing to write about her when profit is involved. She no longer has a relationship with her mother, by whom she felt misunderstood.

And yet, almost magically, her life has also been filled with flashes of glitz and glamour, a life in which copious amounts of champagne, money, parties and traveling have played a significant role. At 18, she had already earned about 400,000 deutsche marks in royalties from her book. She was in love with Alexander Hacke, the guitarist with the German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. She met David Bowie and Nina Hagen, and she also recorded her own records. When Eichinger's film about her life premiered in the United States, she traveled to Los Angeles and became a cult figure, a junkie princess.

A door opens and a tawny Chow-Chow pushes his way through the opening. Perhaps the only constant in her life is that she has always had a dog at her side. The dog stops in front of his mistress, and she laughs. "Leon wants to know how much longer this is going to take," she says, as she pulls a cigarette out of her bag. She has trouble concentrating, and she needs to conserve her energy for later when she autographs copies of her new book's "fan edition," which was expanded to include drawings and photos.

The film was shot with a low budget in 1980 and released in 1981, but set between 1975 and 1977 in West Berlin. It skips the beginning and the end of the book, and concentrates on the main story, starting when Christiane begins her nightlife in Berlin at around 13 years old, and stops rather abruptly after her suicide attempt by stating that she recovered. In the real story, Christiane F. never fully recovered from her addiction, nor did her troubles end with going to Hamburg to begin withdrawal.

Today, Christiane is still alive, but not in good health. For decades she tried to quit her habit, but always she eventually rolled back into it. She also contracted hepatitis C from an infected needle in the late 1980s. A follow-up to her book, Mein Zweites Leben [My Second Life] was published in 2013, chronicling her life after the release of Christiane F. with the intention of clearing all the false tales and misinterpretations about her life since then and trying to make people aware how she doesn't recommend what she did and what happened to her over all those years at all. In 2014 she publicly announced that she was more or less at death's door and didn't expect to make it much longer. However, as of 2022, she is still alive.


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