Pretty pink dolls or naked angry blonde... role models vie at opening of Barbie Dream House

Women’s rights groups protest as theme park based on Mattel’s legendary toy greets scores of little girls

Berlin

Barbie has had countless outfits and accessories since she was born in 1959. But today Barbie’s Dream House opened in Berlin with some unofficial additions – police guards and topless protesters brandishing burning crosses.

The life-sized plastic mansion dubbed “Hell in Pink” by its critics welcomed its first visitors amid vitriolic protests from groups including women’s-rights group Femen, who denounced the project as sexist propaganda.

The giant pink house dominates a 26,900 sq ft site near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz square. Its “Barbie environment” includes a four-poster bed, a Barbie cupcake kitchen and a pink catwalk for girls to model Barbie clothes.

The project is the brainchild of Austrian entrepreneur Christopher Rahofer, who designed the Dream House on licence from the doll’s American producers, Mattel. “This is just about having fun – it is a toy-world dream house that we bring to life,” he insisted.

Michael Koschitzky, the 27-year-old leader of Berlin’s left-wing Occupy Barbie Dream House group, was among scores of protesters demonstrating outside. “This place sends the wrong message,” he said. “We think that there is more to women than Barbie clichés which focus on the kitchen, make-up and clothes.”

Despite their best efforts, the protesters were unable to prevent a steady stream of adult tourists and their eager daughters from filing past an enormous pink fountain in the shape of a high-heeled shoe to get inside. In the ticket hall they were being asked to part with a €12 (£10) entry fee and a further €10 if they wanted their daughter to take part in the fashion show.

Inside, the house took on a strangely North Korean atmosphere as 72 blonde Barbie dolls clad in different pink outfits stood in line behind glass to greet the visitors. They seemed ready to teach even those with a Communist East German background a thing or two about the cult of personality.

The Barbie brand was mercilessly reinforced via images of the pristine doll, accompanied by her equally immaculately clad siblings, Skipper and Chelsea, which flashed up on to video screens at every turn. Only Ken, Barbie’s male partner of indeterminate age was missing. But he soon appeared in the digitally powered cupcake kitchen where girls were making virtual treats while multicoloured plastic cupcakes rotated above their heads.

Through a window, Ken could be seen hard at work acting out the German suburban dream as he polished an already gleaming pink vehicle which looked suspiciously like an open-topped VW Beetle. “We are not sure whether Barbie is actually married to Ken,” confided one of the Dream House guides. All were dressed in black with the word “Friend” in large white letters on the fronts of their T-shirts.

The main attraction was clearly the Barbie wardrobe and dressing area where more “Friends” were on hand to apply make-up and dress the girls in Barbie costumes. “We give them a bit of catwalk training,” explained one pointing to a catwalk where some of the girls were parading to loud “Friend” applause.

Outside Sandra Grether, a leading member of Pinkstinks, a group which campaigns against gender stereotyping, was indignant. “Are women worth no more than their appearance?” she asked. Celine and Nadine Weise, aged nine and 11, who were visiting Berlin with their parents, appeared unperturbed. “We thought it was great,” said Nadine. “The walk-in wardrobe was best,” added her sister.

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