In the end, someone did get hurt -- and in the center of the events at the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience on Thursday afternoon stood a gigantic, pink high-heeled shoe. The pump was actually a fountain of sorts, and the emblem of the life-sized dollhouse that opened its doors to the public on Thursday near Berlin's Alexanderplatz square.
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!"
When another protester became involved, going after a security guard, a brief scuffle ensued, a stroller tipped over and an elderly woman fell to the ground. According to police, the woman was slightly injured and went to the hospital for treatment.
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.
And the building is not made out of bricks and mortar -- it is nothing but a tent. Almost nothing here is real: The walls are made of canvas, the columns of plastic, and the windows and curtains are merely painted on.
The answer to many a young girl's dream was put up by EMS Entertainment not far from Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin, a theme park in pink and white. Children must pay €12 ($15), their adult companions €3 more. Berlin will be just the first stop on a larger tour for the exhibit, remaining in the German capital until the end of August.
The organizers had likely hoped the grand opening would make a different sort of headline. But protesters grabbed the limelight even before the opening. The place is nothing but "sexist propaganda" for children, a spokesman for the group Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse told the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung. The famous doll and her modelesque figure merely services misogynistic clichés, critics say. Some 2,000 people have joined the Facebook group since it was launched.
As such, media interest on Thursday was high. Hordes of journalists wandered through the pink Barbie tent to take a closer look at the miracles inside and, more to the point, to convince one of the relatively few families present despite school and summery weather to be interviewed on camera.
The inside of the Dreamhouse is poignantly harmless. There is a pink kitchen where children can bake virtual cupcakes using a touch-screen. A pink piano with colorful buttons instead of keys that must be pushed to make music. A sled in which they can sit to race through a virtual winter landscape. A table with pens where children can color in Barbie pictures and decorate them with glitter. And everywhere, in display cases, there are Barbies, all stylishly dressed, blonde and, of course, super-thin.
'Totally Off Base'
Is it really all that harmful? "This house is only about beauty, cooking and baking," says Susa Bruha, 34, one of the dozen members of the anti-sexist group Pinkstinks that showed up on Thursday for the opening, well before the crucified doll went up in flames.
"It is simply a very one-dimensional view of women," Bruha says about the exhibit. The message, she says, is that girls can become either models or pop stars -- and nothing else. "But there are other girls who are perhaps small or fat but can do other things super well."
Christoph Rahofer, head of EMS Entertainment, sees things differently. "Personally, I think they are totally off base," he says about the protesters. "I really can't understand how playing with a Barbie doll is problematic." There are, he says, certainly problems in the world that are more pressing than his exhibit.
In recent weeks, there has been no shortage of critique and insults aimed at Rahofer and the Barbie Dreamhouse, a fact which likely explained the watchful eye his personnel kept on the press. They followed journalists throughout the exhibition to ensure that no photos were made of Barbie's four-poster bed, her bathroom or her tub.
Burned on the Cross
They had plenty of work to do. Journalists from around the world -- from Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US were present. All of them wanted to see if Barbie Dreamhouse is really that bad -- and if something newsworthy might happen outside.
For a long time, it didn't. Until midday, the Pinkstinks people were the only ones holding their posters up to the cameras. "Barbie is not my baby," reads one. And "Don't just bake cupcakes, eat them too!"
The scene was almost idyllic. Leftist demonstrators, feminists and other anti-Barbie protesters sat peacefully on the artificial grass or on pink chairs enjoying the warm May sun while small children crawled around in front of the display tent.
And then, Barbie was burned on the cross.