Barbie, the world’s most famous blonde, has a new home in the German capital. Offering an “interactive experience” for visitors, the life-size pink mansion is hard to miss stretching over 2,500 square metres nestled between eastern Berlin’s communist-era tower blocks.
For €22, visitors can peruse Barbie’s walk-in wardrobes, learn how to be a model, do their make up and have their photos taken. Almost the entire place is pink – a colour that has sparked a heated debate about gender stereotyping among critics.
Among some of the few guests on Thursday afternoon was a trio of six-year-old girls. Sitting on pink garden chairs outside, covered in glitter from the “make-up” room, they were clearly very excited about being able to go in Barbie’s house.
“They saw the posters around the city and wanted to come,” said Anja, mother to one of the girls. “It was too expensive but if the kids like it, that’s OK.”
After they left, members of the controversial topless feminist protest group Femen arrived wielding a burning cross with a Barbie doll strapped to it. “Life in plastic is not fantastic,” adorned the woman’s naked torso.
‘Sexism for capitalist gains’
Though its opening had been keenly awaited by some of the city’s younger residents, the house has garnered massive criticism from German feminists, anti-capitalists, and even average members of the public – some of whom were present in Barbie outfits.
Over 100 more were expected to attend a protest later in the day organised by a youth socialist group Linksjugend, which is also behind the “Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse” campaign gaining attention online.
“We are here because sexism is being used for capitalist gains,” 25-year-old Linksjugend member going by the name Steini said. Standing across the street, they were told to leave Barbie’s grounds. “We aren’t actually going to occupy the house, but we plan on demonstrating peacefully,” he said.
The group was not, he explained, against children having fun, but was opposed to them allegedly being manipulated for financial gain. Behind him, a young girl came out with her grandparents toting a bag with two new dolls in it.
The controversy has not passed by the city’s politicians either. Philipp Lengsfeld, a conservative Christian Democratic politician in the city’s central Mitte district where the Barbie house is located, told The Local that he was disappointed in the protesters.
“Berlin is a free city and Barbie is welcome,” he said. “It’s just one of several interesting attractions in the city and it is not anyone’s place to say what people should or should not buy.”
Girls can do their make-up like Barbie
But proud male feminist and protest organizer Michael Koshitzki told onlookers that the house represented an obsession with female beauty that needed to be stamped out.
“This protest is not against the parents who chose to take their children, nor the children themselves, but against the unhealthy beauty obsession it breeds,” he said.
He added that one of the most popular parts of the house seemed to be the dressing room, where girls are encouraged to “make themselves look like Barbie”.
For the trio of six-year-olds, this was the funnest part. “We don’t get to do make-up at home,” one said, pointing proudly to her pink, sparkling forehead. “I have a whole box full of Barbies at home,” another said, showing her freshly painted green, not pink, nails.
Yet for two older visitors, the overt girlishness of the house triggered the loudest alarm bells. “It is very pink,” said 20-year-old Laura. Like the girls, she too had seen the posters adorning Berlin’s walls for the past months and fancied seeing what a real life Barbie house would look like.
“It was totally unrealistic and definitely too expensive, especially for families who take sons because they would have nothing to do.”
‘The world is colourful, Barbie is just pink’
That the house was only really marketed at young girls, and arguably inaccessible for boys was, said Doreen Siebernick,head of Berlin’s teacher union the GEW, just one of the reasons she had come to voice concern. “As a pedagogue, I understand that dolls are part of play. But look around, the world is colourful while the Barbie house is only pink.”
“They are offering school groups reduced rates to get in,” she said.
Siebernick added what she found dangerous was the fact that Barbie promoted the idea to young girls that they being rich, sexy and glamorous was the most important thing for women. “The children I teach do not have access to this lifestyle,” she said.
Also present was campaign group Pink Stinks, the founder of which Stevie Schmiedel said she was particularly upset about the house promoting “pressure to look perfect.” This was unacceptable “in a society where only 47 percent of young women say they feel comfortable in their own skin,” she added.
“This isn’t about stopping fun, but more calling for Barbie’s makers to think about maybe changing the way she looks.” The problem lay, Schmiedel said, in the toy industry.