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The Embargo Issue
Thomas Haustein, now...
Thirty years ago, Thomas Haustein starred in one film. Then he never appeared on-screen again. He’d have long been forgotten, except that the role he played happened to be that of Detlev in Uli Edel’s gorgeously grisly true-story biopic Christiane F. (1981), which proved to be Germany’s most popular film about an adorable heroin-addicted teenage prostitute who hangs out in a train station with other heroin-addicted teenage prostitutes, does a lot of heroin, goes to a David Bowie concert on heroin, and eventually vomits red wine all over her bedroom walls while trying to kick heroin. Despite the film’s rabid cult following, Thomas—who starred as Christiane’s 15-year-old, peach-fuzz-mustached hustler boyfriend—just dropped off the face of the earth. Natja Brunckhorst, who played Christiane, was often asked about him in interviews over the years, but she knew nothing of his whereabouts.
When the internet happened, fans of the film finally had a public forum to ask the question that had been plaguing them for years: “Hey, whatever happened to Thomas Haustein, who played Detlev in Christiane F.?” And they asked it a lot. I documented the mystery myself by writing about him for WFMU’s Beware of the Blog back in 2007. Had he become his character? Was he swallowed into Berlin’s world of drugs and prostitution after the film? Had he been a real child of the Bahnhof Zoo (the Berlin train station notorious for prostitutes and junkies) all along, simply playing himself? Was he still alive?
Last month, my head nearly ass-ploded as my hand clicked on a Facebook message from someone named Thomas Haustein. “Greetings from Berlin!” it said. “I like what you wrote about me.” Gasp! Could it be? Turns out he’s been living a lovely life in Berlin with his wife and son all these years, as a social worker helping drug-addicted teens. Imagine that…
Vice: Let’s start in 1981. How did you get the part of Detlev in Christiane F.?
Thomas Haustein: I was hanging out at the Sound discothèque, and the sister of the producer Bernd Eichinger was walking around, looking for interesting faces for the film. She gave me her phone number and said I should call. I wasn’t sure I should do it, or what exactly it was, or if it was real, but I did eventually call.
Natja Brunckhorst was chosen out of 2,000 girls in Germany to play Christiane. Was it similar for you?
I think so. In their offices there were a lot of photos on the wall of different boys up for the part. Every time I came back, there were less. Then it was something like you often see in television now—round for round, like a competition. I kept going back, doing things in front of them, speaking to the camera. Finally there was only my photo and one other boy’s photo on the wall. That’s when I knew I’d gotten the part.
How old were you?
I was 14. My birthday is in June, so I turned 15 as the film was being made. It was a great summer.
The film was based on Christiane Felscherinow’s autobiography, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo [We Children From Zoo Station]. Had you read the book before you auditioned?
Oh yes, of course. Everyone my age had read it.
Did you have experiences with heroin at the time?
I spent a lot of time at parties in Berlin, in contact with a lot of drugs. I tried many things. But with heroin I always said no. I saw how it affected the lives of young people around me who started using it because it was so nice and then they ended up getting hooked.
Did you hang out with junkies as research?
Sort of. Before the film, I was a normal schoolboy in Berlin, going through puberty. Then my life changed very quickly. I wasn’t in school for six months while filming. I was suddenly in a totally other atmosphere and space. For a boy at 14 it was all very strange, but fun. I made a big jump in my own development. I absorbed a lot of things from culture, subculture, film people, punk music, junkies, lots of scenes.
I love your expression when you walk out of the Sound bathroom and bump into Christiane like a zombie. You imitate a junkie well.
That’s because they were all around me!
Did you meet the real Christiane F.?
She came to the set one day with friends of hers. She was kind of a punk-looking woman and she was very nice. I liked her, but right after I met her they called me to go in front of the camera so I could only talk with her for a short time.
Did you meet the real Detlev R.?
No, I never saw him at all. I only knew something about him years later. He was working for a welfare community, driving a bus for handicapped people, doing OK, and living with his wife and family in Berlin. One person I became close with was Christiane Felscherinow’s real friend Stella from the book. We dated for a while when the film was being made.
Wow. You dated the real Stella?
Yes. She’s in the film too, briefly. She plays the drug dealer who sells me heroin at the Sound, near the beginning. She’s wearing a long coat. I liked her a lot. She showed me how to act in that scene so it was more realistic.
Did you hang out with David Bowie?
He came to the Sound one day, but my friends tricked me. They told me it was David Bowie’s double! So when I met Bowie’s “double” I was very cold. Then he left and my friends told me the truth. I was like, “I missed my chance!” Something that is not known is that the concert scenes were filmed at an AC/DC concert, not a Bowie concert. The Bowie footage was shot later in the US with Natja and a small crew.
When you were filming in the Bahnhof Zoo were there still teenage junkies and prostitutes everywhere?
Oh yes, of course! That was not fake. In the film there are a lot of people in the background who were really staying there, using drugs and everything. You can see in some parts they’re crowded together because Uli wanted them in a certain scene, like when Natja’s walking down the corridor looking for me. Otherwise they were all just hanging around as we were filming.
You mentioned that you hung out at the Sound before the film happened. It’s interesting how true to location Christiane F. is. The Gropiusstadt housing project, the Sound, the Bahnhof Zoo, the public toilets on Bülow Strasse, these were all the exact locations.
Yes. Many are gone. Some are still there.
What is the Bahnhof Zoo like today?
There are a lot of luxury shops inside. They tried to upgrade the quality and get rid of the smell. There’s a lot of security and police around. Still, I know from my current social work that the back of Bahnhof Zoo was hosting young male prostitutes for a very long time. There are still prostitutes, and homeless there as well. It’s a meeting point because the welfare offices are close by. It’s also very anonymous because it’s so big. If the police are after you, you can stay there and nobody will catch you. You can be lost quickly.
I love your clothes in the film. I’m amazed how much they made you look like the real Detlev R., based on the pictures from the book: your skinny jeans and heeled boots, all that denim, the tiger t-shirt that says “Wild Thing,” and that filthy black scarf.
Yes, I liked the clothes as well. Some were my own clothes, not too strange to wear.
Was the “California Gold” jacket yours?
Did the needle scenes depict real injections?
It was a prop. The needle went inside the tube when pressed against your vein, and there was fake blood. Like a magic-knife trick.
What about the withdrawal scene in your flat, with the endless vomiting? I love that scene.
Ah, yes! It was a trick as well, of course. There was pressurized material on Natja’s hand connected to a long plastic tube along her arm, with someone pressing something off-camera. She held it to her mouth and out it came. And kept coming!
Your last scene in the film, when you’re having sex with your male client, is pretty graphic for a 14-year-old in 1981. Were you nervous?
I was not involved in the gay world and of course I was nervous to act out something like that in front of a camera. This was also the same with my first sex scene with Natja. I hadn’t had any sexual experiences yet! So before the scene with my male client, Uli got me alone without the crew, just me and him, and he got behind me to demonstrate how it should look. [laughs]
That’s hot. Do you remember any scenes that were shot that didn’t end up in the final film?
Yes. There was a scene in an old house in ruins close to the Berlin Wall. There was a big man there, the owner of the house or something, with a strange face and fat stomach, and he was very violent. I was there with Natja. We were going to take our junk and we were fighting a lot, and he surprised us with a big stick. He was trying to hit Natja and we ran away outside. I liked it because we did a lot of action scenes inside this house. There were also more scenes filmed with Christiane’s mother, something in relation to their flat. Others too, but it’s hard to remember them now.
Did you ever see Natja Brunckhorst after the film?
No, I didn’t. Every once in a while I see something about her on television. But my contact with her stopped with the end of the film. I don’t know why. I liked her very much.
The film has such a following. The cast should have a reunion.
Oh, yes! It would be nice to see everyone again, even only for one evening.
Are you surprised that the film is still so popular after 30 years?
Yes, especially during the last several years. It’s like a little revival. I was in Bahnhof Zoo today for the photo shoot for this interview and there was a school class there who obviously had watched the scenes in the film or read the book. They were snooping around the back of the station, looking all around. I am really surprised it’s maintained its popularity with young people because today, with the special effects in films like Requiem for a Dream, you can see there are so many other possibilities for telling a story like this.
Would you ever act again? Are you happy Christiane F. was the only film you were ever in?
I didn’t try to act again. I’ve asked myself very often why I didn’t do something in this direction. Maybe it’s because when I see the film I am a very strong critic of myself. Not acting again was an unhappy point. I enjoyed being in Christiane F. very much. Those are intense, wonderful memories.
What do you do now?
Social work. Drug advice and psychoanalytic social therapy for addiction. When I was young I began doing needle exchange, then over the years I did other things in the field, always staying in contact with the same users. Now I work at a drug office, doing ambulant therapy. As an adviser, I’ve remained in contact with some of the teenagers I worked with since I was 14.
Wow. Do you ever tell them you were Detlev in Christiane F.?
No. Certainly not in the beginning. If I have their trust later, perhaps I will. They’re always surprised and ask so many questions. But that’s not really me. I have to maintain real contact with them first, that’s the priority.
Have you shown your son the film?
He’s 14 now. I showed it to him once, but he wasn’t interested. Some things were a bit strong for him. He spends a lot of time on the internet like most kids his age, so he knows about it and is proud to tell his friends.
The many moods of Detlev.