A doll’s hospital in Germany: the Barbie repair service

By Aurelia End DUESSELDORF, Germany, AFP

Where do all the broken, balding Barbie dolls go?

Bettina Dorfmann, a German housewife from Dusseldorf who has never outgrown her love for the long-legged, long-haired dolls, has saved hundreds from ugliness and possible rejection over the past 12 years.

From her kitchen table she runs a business rejuvenating worn-out Barbies. She replaces broken limbs and blonde nylon locks lost in playground tugs-of-war and mends torn ball gowns and nurses’ uniforms.

Her services are advertised on a sign on her car which reads: “Barbie Clinic: We buy or repair your dolls,” and by word of mouth.

“People send me dolls from America, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and a whole lot from Canada,” Dorfmann, a petite blonde 45-year-old, told AFP. “It is a worldwide operation.”

It is also an obsession which began in her childhood, which Dorfmann describes as “very happy”. She had an impressive collection of 20 Barbie dolls and kept them all with the hope of one day passing them on to her children. But her only daughter, who is now 15, showed no interest in vintage dolls in outdated 1960s outfits, Dorfmann said.

“She preferred the latest models, in fact on the whole she was more interested in sports than in dolls.”

Instead of parting with her dolls, Dorfmann started buying more and today has possibly one of the world’s biggest Barbie collections with some 4,500 different models.

It is a veritable archive of the evolution of Mattel’s most successful invention — still one of the world’s most popular toys — and of women themselves over the decades.

Dorfmann’s favorites date from the late fifties and sport demure skirt suits, gloves and hats, sometimes trimmed with real fur.

In the sixties came a flowerchild Barbie in flowing dresses, followed in the seventies by a “disco” model in glitter gear. And not only the dolls’ purported lifestyles but their dimensions changed with the smile becoming wider, like the hips, and the hair blonder. Dorfmann buys the impeccably preserved, which can go for up to 1,500 euros (US$1,970) a piece, but also large numbers of broken dolls which she uses for spare bodyparts and clothes.

These are held in neatly labelled boxes stacked up to the ceiling in her house where Barbie paraphernalia fights for space with other collections — family photos, some 20 stuffed animals and trinkets in better and worse taste.

“I cannot throw anything away. We will be smothered by all this stuff one day, but what can you do?” she sighed.

Dorfmann said her clients are not children but adults like her — nostalgics and hardcore collectors.

She gets paid not only for her repair services these days but for addressing toy fairs and has held a successful exhibition on Barbie’s emancipation.

“She used to be a secretary and an air hostess, but today she is a pilot or a surgeon,” she explained.