BERLIN – 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 4 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 Christiane Felscherinow in a short online video to promote her new German-language book, “Christiane F.: My Second Life.”
“Hardly anyone would have believed that I’d turn 51 years old,” she says. “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.
Her path to fame started when she testified as a witness at a pedophile’s trial and met a reporter for the 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 “We, Children of Bahnhof Zoo” — titled “Christiane F.” in the English version.
The gritty story cracked open a deadly world unknown to many, but 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 U.S. release to appear on a radio show, and met rock and acting stars, including Billy Idol.
But she fell back into old habits — cocaine and then heroin.
The “Second Life” autobiography is another disarmingly frank chronicle of roller coaster years of drugs, withdrawal, adventures with rock and literary stars, and even a stint in jail.
To many, she is a survivor, not afraid to look back with brutal honesty.