First Manhattan, now Barbie takes Berlin

CHARLES MCPHEDRAN
Last updated 11:02 20/05/2013

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The world's most famous blonde is moving into a rough neighbourhood.

Barbie, the playmate of millions of girls, is opening her very own palace in the centre of Berlin. Mattel, the maker of Barbie, is promising real life glitter and glamour for girls of all ages. Barbie Dreamhouse is Europe's first life-size Barbie dollhouse; the world's first, in South Florida, opened last week.

The Berlin house's entranceway features dozens of Barbies stacked in a glass cabinet. Inside, amid winding passageways, are a delirious pink piano and a tropical hideaway, replete with garish flowers. There's even a Barbie Café, although it's unclear if it will serve food.

"Come visit me," smirks Barbie, from half-torn billboards throughout the city.

But, as so often, reality is less alluring than the advertisements. Barbie Dreamhouse, a 2500-square-metre pink and purple pavilion, has been plunked right in the middle of a gravelly car park near Berlin's main downtown square, Alexanderplatz.

The Dreamhouse is dwarfed by nearby rundown housing-commission-style tower blocks built in the communist era. Motley palm trees slouch limply in front of the Dreamhouse, made from thin tarpaulin.

Just hours before it opened its doors, the Dreamhouse was buzzing with blonde Mattel representatives tottering on eight-centimetre heels. None were very keen to answer reporters' questions.

Outside, a group of pierced, scruffy leftists meandered around the car park. Many from the city's activist scene were preparing for a demonstration at Planet Pink's opening.

Their charge: Barbie is a bad role model for young girls. Because she promotes consumerism and "pinkification" - the attitude that "girls should be girls, and boys boys".

"As far as we know the highlight of the house is a walk-in closet, which has the biggest high heel collection," says Michael Koschitzki, the mastermind behind Berlin's anti-Barbie movement. "This promotes quite a limited lifestyle for women, one which is restricted to the household, to appearance, to make-up."

Koschitzki has been a busy boy of late. He has been promoting his demonstration, which will coincide with the opening of Barbie House on Thursday, leafleting and holding meetings.

His protest will bring together anti-Barbie activists from two far-left groups, Socialist German Workers Youth and Left Youth. It's planned that protestors will gather and surround Barbie House.

Koschitzki promises the protest will stay "peaceful" and that activists won't storm the house. After all, he concedes, "There will be children in the house and we don't want to endanger them".

All the same, Berlin police are planning to dispatch officers to Barbie Dreamhouse. A police spokesman declined to reveal just how many officers will be guarding Barbie's mansion from protesters. After all, to do so would compromise "operational planning", he said.

More than a few irate anti-blondes will show up. Anti-Barbie sentiment has been growing in Berlin, long a home to punks, perennial students and all kinds of lefties. Seventeen hundred people have now signed up to Occupy's Facebook group and at least a hundred people are expected to attend the demonstration.

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As a consequence, Mattel has been trying to appease the unruly locals. Spokeswoman Stephanie Wegener has even met with Occupy Barbie activists. Wegener, who speaks English with an affected American accent, insists that protestors and Mattel are in agreement.

"We both want the same thing," Wegener says. "We both want women to do well."

Activists say that Barbie's flack has had coffee with them and - unsuccessfully - tried to convince them that she, like Barbie, is a real life feminist.

"She told me that she just wants everyone to have a nice day," says Occupy Barbie's Koschitzki. "She said that she had problems asserting herself with men. But that any woman can do it if she really, really wants to."

And Mattel claims to be relaxed and comfortable about protests at the opening. "Barbie has always been a lightning rod for criticism," says Wegener.

However, the franchise-holder to whom Mattel has granted the rights to run Barbie's magical kingdom, EMS Entertainment, has not been so chipper about all these protests.

EMS has complained to police about graffiti damage to several banners of Barbie attached to a fence in front of the Dreamhouse: in recent weeks, an image of Barbie was defaced and for a while it appeared as if the dream girl had a mustache and a goatee.

EMS, an events management company, has blamed Occupy Barbie for the damage, which police say they are now investigating. In an email to Occupy Barbie, EMS director Thomas Ludicke accused activists, or "fellow travellers", of being behind the anti-pink vandalism.

"The cause [of the graffiti] can be definitely traced back to your group," Ludicke says in the email. "So we are holding you responsible. And we reserve the right to take further steps."

EMS did not return calls. But, back at Barbie House, its representatives were tense and strained.

In fact, many of the publicists at Berlin's very own planet pink seemed to be regretting the decision to open Barbie's Dreamhouse in bolshie Berlin.

"Barbie fits with Berlin, because you can do what you want here," says a brunette Bavarian PR agent. "But I think she'd fit with Munich better. Because there wouldn't be protests there."

- Daily Life

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