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WOMEN

Giant Barbie doll house opens amid protests

Harmless pink fun or a bad influence on young girls? A life-size Barbie dream house attraction opened in Berlin on Thursday to protests including a bare-chested woman burning a doll in effigy. Jessica Ware reports.

Giant Barbie doll house opens amid protests
Photo: DPA

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.

Shots from the action at the Barbie Dreamhouse

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.

Jessica Ware

[email protected]

twitter.com/jesscware

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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