Content Note: This article contains discussion of drug use and addiction.

One Sunday morning in Berlin, at the Mauerpark flea market, I ended up at a stall selling film posters. The first one that caught my eye featured an image of a girl with bright red hair standing in a U-Bahn station with her back to the camera. There was something about the picture that captured me, and I ended up buying it and pinning it above my bed, where it stayed for months. I had never seen the film.

A few weeks ago, I watched it for the first time. Christiane F. (Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, dir. Uli Edel, 1981) tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl, Christiane, growing up in West Berlin in the mid-1970s. All but abandoned by her parents, she starts going to clubs and concerts, falls in with the wrong crowd, and quickly descends into heroin addiction.

“There is the sense of getting a glimpse into the secret life of female adolescence – something otherwise completely impenetrable.”

I was immediately struck by the film’s similarity to the 2017 film Axolotl Overkill, directed by Helene Hegemann. The protagonist of the film is sixteen-year-old Mifti, who escapes her broken home to hang out in Berlin clubs with her much older lover Alice (a white-collar criminal), and her new friend, actress and drug addict Ophelia. Both films are set in Berlin, and both chronicle the downward spiral of teenage girls drawn into a world which seems to spin too fast for them. They are both stories of fear, loneliness, and complete loss of control – but each of them somehow manages to be perversely beautiful and nostalgic. The films document Mifti and Christiane venturing into the adult world, experimenting with drugs and alcohol and sexuality, visibly and awkwardly trying to act older than they are.

After noticing their similarities, I began to question my almost instantaneous love for these films. They are both, in different ways, extremely painful to watch – so why was I so drawn to them?

Axolotl Overkill is based on a book which was written by the director when she was seventeen. The story of Christiane F. is taken from a series of interviews with Christiane Felscherinow which were subsequently compiled into a book, documenting teenage drug use in 70s Berlin and her own downfall. In other words, these are real stories which, while they are inarguably aestheticised, manage to completely maintain the authenticity of lived experience. The reason why I found them so refreshing to watch as films, despite the heavy subject matter, is that you see real teenage girls on screen, unashamedly showing their flaws and wilfully pursuing their own desires no matter who gets hurt along the way. What the films manage to avoid, as so few things do, is the sense of a team of adult writers and producers romanticising and glamorising adolescent life. Christiane F. has countless moments of genuine horror, while Axolotl Overkill is driven by a sense of complete hopelessness which will likely be recognisable to any seventeen-year-old.

“There always has, and always will be, a morbid love of visual media which depicts visceral, painful experiences and balances them with beauty.”

Natja Brunckhorst in 'Christiane F.' twitter.com/sputnik_kino

There is a reason why Christiane F. instantly came to be a cult classic, and Hegemann’s book received such praise and notoriety. There is definitely something morbid about the popular fascination with them – probably the reason why I was so drawn to the poster of Christiane F. As viewers, we are able to watch the two girls completely self-destruct, while remaining separate and untouched. Scenes of heroin overdoses and ugly hangovers are intercut with beautifully dynamic shots of teenagers running hand-in-hand through underground stations; dancing in hotel rooms; standing on roofs looking out over Berlin. The style in Christiane F. had at the time an allure which is probably similar to that of the distinctive Euphoria style now and was emulated by a subculture of young girls. There is the sense of getting a glimpse into the secret life of female adolescence – something otherwise completely impenetrable.


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By the end of Christiane F., the lights of the David Bowie concert have faded and the grungy outfits of the girls hanging around Zoologischer Garten don’t seem so aspirational. The romance of Axolotl Overkill, which seems so thrilling as you live through it alongside Mifti, seems devoid of the meaning and importance it holds throughout the story as Mifti escapes the grip Alice has on her and asserts her independence.

The cycle of cult obsession continues now, with Sam Levinson’s HBO series Euphoria (2019 – current). There always has, and always will be, a morbid love of visual media which depicts visceral, painful experiences and balances them with beauty. The fascination with dilapidated urban backdrops, thrifted outfits and messily dyed hair is perfectly wrapped up in our bizarre societal obsession with youth. Christiane F., Axolotl Overkill, and Euphoria are their own sub-genre within the ‘coming-of-age drama’, because they don’t depict teenagers escaping anything, or even necessarily growing from their experiences. They simply exist, and the cycle goes on.