Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe, specifically northern Germany, for the first time.
The wholly unique experience completely blew my mind and I returned, like I’m sure most Canadians do after their first trip to Europe, asking why our country is lacking in some of the more amazing aspects of the continent.
Bike lanes. The little red bricks in the sidewalk signal that bikes will be coming through all the time, at any time. And if you get caught and clipped by a bike, it’s your fault – as if you were walking down the middle of a busy street.
Food and beverage. It’s cheap. Really cheap, at least in Bremen and Berlin. And the quality for average grocery store fare is what Canadians drive further to pay more for.
It’s also local. I’m a big fan of granola and yogurt in the morning (mainly because I can’t get that breakfast wrong, even with one eye closed) and the brand I ate was produced in a town little more than an hour’s train ride away.
Speaking of the trains … they run on time. All the time. Trains, trams and buses are everywhere and for the 10 days I was in Germany, only once did I ride in a vehicle (and that was on the Autobahn, which is absolutely as cool as you hope it is).
While in Berlin, my travelling friend and I hit up a special exhibit in the city – Barbie’s Dreamhouse Experience.
Like millions of other little girls I played with Barbie, my favourite actually being Malibu Barbie’s friend with the long, dark hair. I can’t remember the name; she didn’t participate in the punk rock head shaving that Malibu Barbie and some of her other friends did.
Bracing myself against the onslaught of hyperactive little girls (and boys) and the visual assault that is the colour pink, we headed inside the giant tent set up behind Berlin’s largest shopping mall.
Earlier in the week, the area was the site of pickets by female activists angered by the false ideal of beauty that Barbie represents. We were alerted to this by my friend’s university professor and her doctoral advisor.
Nevertheless, we headed inside, past the giant pink stiletto-shaped water fountain to Barbie’s kitchen, where we learned she only eats candy and cupcakes.
A dolphin lives in her toilet.
And her closet is any woman’s dream – at first glance. I noticed the funhouse mirrors right away but it wasn’t until my friend made me stand in front of one that I noticed the distorted reflection – a reflection that appears taller and slimmer than I knew I was.
At that point, we overheard a daughter ask her father about her reflection, to which he replied: it’s Barbie’s dreamhouse, where everyone is thin, and tall and beautiful.
As she tugged at her stomach, we hoped we didn’t just witness the start of an eating disorder and understood that maybe, just maybe, the feminists had a point.
We rushed through the final section, Barbie’s penthouse, and headed outside into the rainy day to breathe fresh air.
Across the square was Classic Tattoo, an art rock cafe. We beelined. Inside and out, we saw artwork on the walls and on bodies, people of all shapes and sizes and hair colours.
A simple dose of an alternative ideal of beauty and balance was restored. We stopped for a drink at a nearby restaurant to relax, which is a perfectly normal thing to do in the afternoon in Germany.
Lots of my experiences in Europe I wish I could bring back to Canada. Barbie’s Dreamhouse Experience, however, is not one of them.