Point in time:
The story of the young people around Bahnhof Zoo is still one of the damn best in the world.
«Some of the scenes hurt deep down in my soul.»
Here at home we had “Death on Oslo S”. In Germany they had “We the children from Bahnhof Zoo”. To put it mildly, there were stronger issues.
The book exploded like a bomb when it came out in 1978, written by two journalists from the newspaper Stern. It was about the life of the young girl Christiane F., whom the journalists came in contact with when she testified in a child prostitution case.
By then she already had many years behind her as a drug addict and prostitute. She was only 13 years old when she tried heroin for the first time. As a 14-year-old, she was a regular in the harsh street environment around the Bahnhof Zoo train station.
The road to intoxication
The book was filmed in 1981, with the memorable Norwegian title “Being young is too damn good”. It became a cult classic, and now it is relevant again, added to the series of old films and series that are given new life by the streaming services.
And it’s just to say at once: “We children from Bahnhof Zoo” is still one of the world’s damnest stories.
The new TV series will hardly be accused of romanticizing the drug environment, as the original film was. When you spend eight hour-long episodes following the descent to hell, is not heroin chic the first style you want to wear afterwards.
This despite the fact that they manage to look impressively cool, Christiane and her friends, in hot pants and fishnet stockings, sky-high heels and worn leather jackets. This is a series in which a lot of energy has been put into making it look stylish. It is full of elaborate tableaux that could pass as band photos or album covers, often set to music by David Bowie songs (his music also played an important role in the original film).
Christiane and the gang
They look like they own the world for a moment, but then the camera zooms in on their faces and shows how young, insecure and vulnerable they really are.
This is especially evident in Christiane’s friend Babsi (Lea Drinda), the rich man’s daughter with the furry lower lip. But also with the unhappily in love Axel (Jeremias Meyer), abrupt Stella (Lena Urzendowsky), Christiane’s girlfriend Benno (Michelangelo Fortuzzi), who loses her dog at the beginning of the series, and not least Christiane herself (Jana McKinnon).
The Babsi character is obviously based on another real and much talked about girl from the environment around Christiane. The other characters are mainly fictional, but appear credible enough. They also get more or less credible and sometimes tragic background stories, presented quickly and effectively through cross-cutting in the beginning. It’s about domestic violence, alcoholic parents, or just cold and absent ones.
Some of the stories may seem a bit simple – was this all that was needed, somehow? But not all drug addicts have had a tragic upbringing. It soon becomes clear that the most important driver for Christiane and the gang, what really makes the ball roll, is the encounter with “H”, the all-consuming intoxication that lifts them (practically, in one of the series’ many metaphorical scenes) and gets it all to fall into place. And once one border is crossed, it is easier for them to cross a new one than to return.
At first, the mood is almost strangely light, with partying, dancing, laughter and new friendships, interrupted by the occasional gloomy hint of what is to come. In this sense, it’s a bit like the British series ‘It’s a Sin’, which is added to about the same time period, but which is about AIDS instead of heroin.
Gradually it becomes denser between the dark scenes, while the light ones become fewer and fewer. Some of the scenes hurt deep down in my soul. It is especially heartbreaking to follow the powerless parents of Christiane, who constantly see hope, before the setback comes, again and again. It can feel exhausting to watch, even for TV viewers, and it is questionable whether eight hours is not too much for a series that goes so much in a circle.
But the characters develop quite strongly during the eight hours. This is not only a history of addiction, but also a form of history of formation. It shows how young people go from carefree children to adults who have to take responsibility for themselves (at least those who manage to grow up). And it shows well, with the help of quite powerful contrasts, how this turning point works: There are some particularly vulnerable years where you are not one or the other, but both at once. This is probably also the reason why the creators of the series believe the story is still relevant. Being young can be too damn, although fortunately it is not always as damn like here.