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Barbie’s Dreamhouse Gets a Warm Reception

We’re talking burning crosses and protests warm

Adam Chandler
May 17, 2013

File under: This would be a funny story were it not so terribly serious…yesterday’s opening of the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience, ostensibly a museum-meets-theme-park in Berlin’s commercial Alexanderplatz area, was overshadowed by some (not entirely unwarranted) protests against Barbie as a reductive feminist symbol.

In the weeks before its opening, various groups voiced their disapproval of the temporary theme park. And on Thursday, demonstrators finally got their chance to show just how furious they are. In the early afternoon, an activist with the women’s rights group Femen climbed onto the gigantic shoe dressed only in a mini-skirt. She was carrying a burning cross on which a Barbie doll had been crucified. Parents and children stood nearby. The women screamed over and over again: “Being Barbie is not a career!”…

It may sound relatively banal, but Barbie Dreamhouse personnel didn’t find it funny at all. “They were standing at the fence and chanting ‘Burn it down! Burn it down!’” one employee said. And then the Femen activist started running around with her burning cross. The employee said he thought she was going to light the building on fire.

A few people were injured in various scuffles related to the protests.

The history of the Barbie doll may surprise you. Back in 2005, Sara Ivry did a Vox Tablet podcast with filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who made a film about the doll. The two discussed how a woman named Ruth Handler, the daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants, came to create the Barbie doll in the late 1950s, based on paper fashion dolls, and named for her own daughter.

Also of note, a Tablet piece about how Gustav Klimt’s muse Adele Bloch-Bauer became the inspiration for a more sophisticated limited edition Barbie doll released just a few years ago.

More recently, however, the brainy, beautiful muse of Austria’s avant-garde has inspired a product vastly lower in price but higher in cultural currency: a Barbie doll. The Klimt-inspired Barbie, in her glistening, geometric gown—along with, fittingly enough, a Mona Lisa-inspired Barbie, adorned in Renaissance finery, and a van Goghian Barbie, rocking a Starry Night cocktail dress—are the three inaugural offerings of the Barbie Collector Museum Collection. At $34.95 each, these dolls are aimed not at the youthful Barbie enthusiast—nor, for that matter, at the art enthusiast—but rather at the adult consumer, someone who might also acquire the glamorous, Project Runway-ready Barbie whose look was inspired by the Sydney Opera House.

Maybe the pink Barbie Dreamhouse Museum in Berlin left these details out of their brochures.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.