“Once there were mountains on mountains
Once there were sun birds to soar with and once I could never be down
I got to keep searching and searching
Oh, what will I be believing and who will…”
David Bowie, that chameleonic 20th century demigod, had transmuted from his Halloween Jack and plastic soul “Young Americans” look to become a new and much darker character, the Thin White Duke, given to “throwing darts in lover’s eyes.”
The Duke was the flipside of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, the evil antonym second self of the Man Who Fell to Earth, who at first looked much simpler and more normal than the past versions of who audiences had come to expect Bowie being. Yet he was a character of contradictions, in Bowie’s own words “A very Aryan, fascist type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance.”
The Duke was beyond amoral; he’d make statements supporting Hitler and give alleged sieg heil salutes outside London Victoria station. Was it theater? Or was it a steady diet of red peppers, milk, and hard drugs, further fuelled by paranoia, Kabbala and Crowley teachings, and the constant fear that witches were coming for him, leading him to keeping all of waste matter in a series of locked refrigerators?
Realizing that the Thin White Duke was “a very nasty character indeed,” Bowie left California and headed to West Berlin with Iggy Pop. Unlike Ziggy, the Duke did not have a public retirement. He just went away.
“I brought my baby home, she, she sat around forlorn
She saw my TVC one five, baby’s gone, she
She crawled right in, oh my, she crawled right in my
So hologramic, oh my TVC one five
Oh, so demonic, oh my TVC one five”
Christiane Vera Felscherinow grew up in West Berlin with an abusive alcoholic father and an absent mother, lost in the throes of an affair. By 12, she was smoking hash. She soon moved to pills, LSD and heroin. And by the time she was 14, she was hooked on smack and hooking on corners.
Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck from the news magazine Stern met her when she was a witness in a trial for a man who was paying sex workers with smack. They had the idea that she’d help them tell the hidden story of Berlin’s teen drug epidemic. A two-hour interview turned into two months, as Felscherinow provided them with enough stories to be in a weekly series of articles that became the book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the story of her life between 12 and 15.
After the initial success of the book and the film made from it — we’ll get to that in a bit — she became a star, with her look emulated by young girls who made pilgrimages to the Bahnhof Zoo. Along with her boyfriend, Einstürzende Neubauten member Alexander Hacke, she released two albums under the name Sentimentale Jugend. They also appeared together in the movie Decoder.
When she came to America to promote the film, she was busted for heroin and had to leave the country. In 2013, while promoting her second book Mein Zweites Leben [My Second Life], she told VICE that she still had to consume methadone and claimed that she never wanted to give up drugs. She suffers today from a combination of hepititus C and cirrhosis of the liver, and said in that article, “I will die soon, I know that. But I haven’t missed out on anything in my life. I am fine with it. So this isn’t what I’d recommend: this isn’t the best life to live, but it’s my life.”
“Come see, come see, remember me?
We played out an all night movie role
You said it would last, but I guess we enrolled
In 1984 (who could ask for more)”
Christiane F. is the very definition of a rough watch. Unlike the gentlemen junkies media had presented up to now, the addicts of this story are still children, passing out in public bathrooms, covered in piss and blood and vomit, washing out needles in the toilet to use them again, selling themselves for just one fix and passing through lives as unloved forgotten husks.
The love of music — of David Bowie! — brings our heroine to SOUND, a club where she takes her first pills, which leads to LSD, which leads to heroin after a Bowie show that barely anyone enjoys as they’re so bombed out of their brains, yet there’s a radiant rock star in their midst*.
The love of a young boy is even worse, because that’s why the heroin starts, and when he goes, the heroin stays. Selling her body is just another way to stay close to the boy, who sells his body to men for the drugs he needs to stay alive. or stay dead, who can say.
She and the boy try to go cold turkey together after a friend dies, but one trip to the Bahnhof Zoo ruins it all. They run to one of his clients houses and she walks in on the man taking the man she loves from behind and runs, finding that more of their friends are dying all around them before she overdoses herself, but lives.
“I can remember
Standing, by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, was on the other side”
At the German premiere of the film, Bowie picked up Felscherinow in a limousine.
“I thought David Bowie was going to be the star of my movie, but it was all about me,” she said. And she didn’t really like the movie that much.
*Actually, the footage shown is an AC/DC show in Berlin, juxtaposed with footage of Bowie shot in New York City.