The Second Life of Christiane F.(2014): Humanizing the person behind the icon
Christiane Vera Felscherinow, better known as Christiane F., was born in a divided Germany 59 years ago. This political scenario was directly reflected in socioeconomic inequalities and cultural reactions, in which young people sought refuge from so many problems in rock music, which was evolving quickly, becoming more complex and abrasive. Christiane sought this refuge early on. She was less than 14 years old when David Bowie records were a gamer changer while her family was divided: her mother had a new partner and her father, an alcoholic, lived in another place. But at the time her family was together, her insides were ripped to shreds. Her father mistreated her as well as her sister, and her mother was more concerned with her looks and her boyfriends than with taking care of the children (according to Christiane’s own words).
In the Berlin underground scene of the 70s, the helpless girl experimented with various drugs until she found heroin at the SOUND disco, through her first boyfriend, Detlef. The whole story from then on shocked society, and the 1978 book — better known in Brazil as I, Christiane F., 13 years old, drugged and prostitute’— was released amidst Christiane’s reports about the underworld of drugs and prostitution, which quickly became a world bestseller. In addition, her story became a moral lesson in schools so that no young person would be like her. Despite all the money and fame gained from the success of the book, and later from the 1981 film, there was no room left for humanizing the young girl behind the icon. Her personal dilemmas didn’t matter, what society wanted to know was whether she was shooting up or not, that said, Christiane F. was immortalized as a one-dimensional myth.
More than 30 years after the construction of Christiane F., the icon, Christiane Vera is interviewed by journalist Sonja Vukovic in what became her second biography, My Second Life, in order to tell her own story after the success of the first book. Before reading the biography, I checked some German reading forums in which readers claimed that the writing was not pleasing because it played events in Christiane’s life at random and also because of the coldness of their descriptions. However, we find in 2013 (the year the book was released in Germany) a disillusioned, lonely, and bitter Christiane, which undoubtedly explains the dry tone of her writing. The open-ending of her first biography gave us hope for her recovery from addiction, but her life didn’t follow that path. This is soon perceived in the first chapter of the book under the title of ‘Shitty life’. At the time of the second book’s release, Christiane reported that she regretted doing both the first book and the film because it shortened her life. We learned from the most recent book that she suffers from Hepatitis C acquired in the 80s due to a shared needle and that she is always feeling sick because of that and also because of her longtime addiction. But we learn as well that that’s not the only thing that made her sick. Being an abandoned child, a teenager, and an adult surrounded by malicious people who promised her the affection she lacked, but who actually wanted her money, would also greatly affect her health.
However, Christiane alternates between her pain and her moments of glamor and ecstasy, which were rarer. The 1980s saw her travel to Hollywood at the time the biopic was released and living in Pasadena, her favorite place in the world. She would still form a strong bond with the German post-punk artist, Nina Hagen, and would travel with David Bowie by plane, as both were responsible for producing the biographical film. If the 13-year-old Christiane escaped reality through Bowie’s music, the adult one would see him as a short, insecure figure with a beard that reminded her of her father. She maintains, both in this and in her first literary work, a distant yet critical perspective on the people around her. This would be accentuated over time, as Christiane would become suspicious of everyone and everything. The backstabbing and people’s obsession with the state of her arms over her mental state would isolate her from the world and she would find faithful companionship in her dogs.
To be more precise about her tragedies, in 1996, Christiane had her only child, an event she considers the happiest moment of her life. She spent years clean doing her best as a mother until she got involved with a scammer who almost bankrupted her, and on top of that, led Christiane to get cornered by police because of drugs and thus lose custody of her son in 2008. That was certainly the biggest pain of all because since then, she hasn’t been able to win the custody back, which was transferred to another family, and Christiane can only visit him once in a while. Furthermore, Christiane had been a single mother, as the boy’s father abandoned them at the time. But for every tragedy announced in the life of Christiane F., there was sensationalism in the media that depicted her as guilty for being a junkie and with her second book, we learn that it is not the first time that we see women being targets of the sexist media, which always blames them for the bad things that happen to them and never investigate the power of the patriarchy behind. Let’s look at the story of Amy Winehouse and her drug problems, for example. Who dares blame Blake Civil for dragging her into a downward spiral?
In Christiane’s case, she holds herself responsible for her addiction and has already claimed to not want to quit it because that’s what was left. Many can read this statement without knowing her story and misjudge it because women will always bear the cross for every subversive action, and that is why it is very important to hear what they have to say through an empathetic lens.
Christiane F. closes her second biography by saying she had been chased after since she earned a lot of money with the success of her first works. She believes that the person behind all this is her mother, since she never had access to her money, and believed that Christiane would not be able to take care of her finances because she was young and a junkie. It’s a sad ending, different from the hopeful atmosphere in the 1978 book. Christiane gave a few interviews at the time of the release of the second biography, but she became reclusive in her apartment near the Hermannplatz station, sometimes going out with her dog Leon, but whenever spotted by paparazzi, the tabloid writes that she is back in the drug scene. This is the unglamorous life of Christiane F: social isolation (in a time well before the pandemic), fear of being followed, childless, mentally and physically ill, and having to deal with the constant curiosity of others regarding her veins. We built the Christiane F. mythology, but we never humanized it. Despite everything, Christiane always seems to have held on to herself and what we can learn from the woman far from the myth is that, in the end, we women only have ourselves to rescue our narrative and heal from pain.