[This article was originally written in 2022, the year that marked the 40th anniversary of the movie's release in Brazil]
In 1982, Brazil was under a military dictatorship that was slowly walking toward an end after almost 20 years of brutal censorship. Many artistic works and artists that subverted traditional values in any format were silenced differently. Some artists could only release their works decades after the dictatorship was over. In that same year, our cinemas were taken by the shocking story of a 13-year-old German girl named Christiane and her addiction to heroin. Only 18+ older people were allowed to see it, but younger people eventually saw it too and read her book. With its intriguing title, Eu, Christiane F., 13 anos, Drogada e Prostituída (I, Christiane F., 13 years old, drug addict and prostitute), both the book and movie interestingly served as game changers, on one hand, for young people who got inspired by the liberating atmosphere surrounding her story with the punk club and people’s style, the Bowie soundtrack, nighttime friendship and lovers, and this idea that young people could have a voice about the world around them.
On the other hand, schools adopted the book as a “don’t be like this person” guide, reinforcing traditional values. Christiane F. was, ironically, both a teen icon and a kid parents didn’t want their kids around. Even though Brazil was moving toward democratic values, it has never ceased to be a very conservative country. Christiane (played by Natja Brunckhorst) was also living in a divided country. But it was not the only one that caught everyone’s eye. Her first lover, Detlef (played by Thomas Haustein) also showed the dark side of being a kid on the streets and hooked to heroin. His relationship with Christiane was complex as well as how he had to reconcile that with sleeping with men for a dose. Indeed, all those Bahnhof Zoo have intrigued us even 40 years after the movie’s release in Brazil, in 1982. So much so that there’s a new Amazon Prime series revisiting the story, and the original movie was back in our cinemas last year (2022) in a remastered version and I got the unique chance to see the film that much impacted my life when I was 17. I think it has aged well, and here we will talk further to Thomas Haustein, who has worked with social assistance to drug addicts since a young age, about the work’s remaining impact.
- I have read other interviews with you and you discuss the impact both the movie and book had back then. You were 14 and everyone in your class had read it. Then, when you were cast for the movie, you also had people around you who were using heroin. How do you think that things would have been different if Christiane F. was a story from 2022 [with you being 14]?
Today exists more attention to these groups of young drug addicts, and more possibilities to offer Rehabs. The story of Christiane F. was really shocking for society. It opened their eyes.
2. I think that everyone agrees that all kids who played in the movie were very realistic. Did you identify yourself with Detlef somehow? What was the most challenging aspect of playing him?
Because I could never talk to him, to receive a personal impression, it was a challenge to imagine how he was…so I tried to create a fantasy picture of him. The advantage was that I was also a teenager, in 1980 I was fifteen years old…so, I had, perhaps, similar issues, first relationships, breaking out of the parental home, drama and overconfidence, first drug encounters…Although I had never used heroin, in the 1980s there was a lot of heroin, of course. There was also a lot of hashish, LSD, and alcohol anyway.
3. You reconnected to Natja [actress and director who played Christiane F.] years ago after more than 30 years with no contact and you two had a beautiful photo shoot in some spots from the movie. How was it? Do you have any special memories regarding both Natja and the spots?
It was a special day…it touched me really strongly…and we were talking for hours…we realized that we lived in the same district in Berlin for a few years, almost next door, and never met. That’s funny, isn’t it?
4. One of the most touching things about the movie is how Bowie’s songs could really match the atmosphere. The movie turned me [and thousands of others for sure] into his fan instantly when I watched the movie in my teenage years. The kids running wildly to Heroes [I hope you didn’t get hurt breaking that glass], Sense of Doubt being played in very tense moments. We see how Bowie impacted Christiane F.’s life, but did it impact yours as well at that time? And do you have any favorite scene with a song being part of it?
Actually, I was hurt by the broken glass..it was real glass and a splinter flew against my neck and there was some blood through the cut. But I didn’t even notice and just kept going.
Yes, I had heard a lot of Bowie…more the vinyl LP Ashes to ashes… which was completely new in my time. I mean that D.Bowie created timeless music…and he was opening the doors wide for being tolerant of different wishes to express yourself…to live the life and the personal style that everyone wants to be. He was very Androgynous, he played with the courage to realize himself and took away the fear of showing how you want to be.
5. Thinking about the everlasting influence of Christiane F. nowadays, besides the shocking drug scenes, I believe that it could be due to the fact that young kids speaking their minds is still impressive. We also have Bowie’s influence on our culture, even after his death, and young kids figuring out what to do with their lives, something that always brings young audiences closer. There was also the rupture with the idea of West Germany as the “land of freedom”. But even after other movies portraying the use of heroin such as Trainspotting and Requiem for a dream, and even with the fall of the wall, the story remains relevant. Besides, each person will say a different thing when asked why Christiane F. still matters. What would be your take? Does it still impact you in 2022?
Her story also touches our present, because as the most famous drug addict in the world, she is an example of the desire of some people to escape the unpleasant feelings of life. For a moment perhaps it seems to work by incorporating any kind of stuff, drugs, chemical pills, and alcohol. But on another hand, they are ready to pay a high price for the risk to endanger their corporal, mental, and social health therefore, making it difficult for them to really deal with and progress with these destructive feelings.
You can find my review of the second biography of Christiane F. here.
6. At last, leave a message for your Brazilian admirers who regard your character as an important part of their lives and will love to know about you. Feel free to talk about your current and future projects as well. Thank you, Thomas!
We all are time passengers and are sitting on the same ship. We shouldn’t forget that we all make mistakes sometimes. It’s good if we survive them. Drop the moral stick of guilt. Be always a little gracious and kind to ourselves. Don’t forget this…Um grande abraço de Berlim a todos os brasileiros que me lêem. [A big hug from Berlim to all Brazilians that read me]. ** Yes, Thomas speaks a bit of Portuguese as he has already traveled to some states in our country.**
I coordinate a therapy group for drug addicts and alcoholics, I visit a prison in Berlin and I think it’s my destiny to defend these people.
You can read this interview in Portuguese here.