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Madame Tussauds in Berlin – everything's real?

Madame Tussauds Berlin
Madame Tussauds Berlin © visitBerlin, Foto: Pierre Adenis

Back in Rome ... Whether it Augustus, Tiberius or Claudius, each Roman emperor would watch with great care as his image was crafted and would in the process be tricked by how it depicted his body and beauty. Roman emperors had themselves immortalised in life-sized statues to establish their presence and power in public. If the emperor found the image an ideal representation, it would be approved and allowed to be placed in public.

and now in Berlin...

Now turning our attention to Berlin in September 2014, I'm going to take part in a guided tour through Madame Tussauds wax figure museum. Visitors from around the world flock to see the 3-D images of their favourite celebrities up close and personally. They put their hand on Obama's shoulder and give him advice, sit down for a selfie with George Clooney, or giggle as they imitate German chancellor Angela Merkel trademark diamond-shaped gesture with her hands. Like in Rome, every single figure here has been approved by the people represented. But the process is quite different than in Rome: it's not the famous who get to decide to perpetuate themselves in a wax figure; instead, it's considered a special honour to be invited by Madame Tussauds. And the conditions for selection are strict: anyone who is to find a place in the wax museum must have shaped history in some way. For example, German television presenter Thomas Gottschalk, who's had a second home here for twenty years now. Celebrities who are enjoying only their fifteen minutes of fame aren't going to be found here: no comedy characters like Cindy from Marzahn, no reality TV stars like Daniela Katzenberger or the late Knut the Polar Bear from Berlin's zoo.

From shoe size to hairstyles

Another difference from ancient Rome: if you're going to be here, you will be reproduced 100% as-is: from shoe size to hairstyle and everything in-between. Many have tried to trick Madame Tussauds, but in vain: Nicolas Sarkozy would have liked to see himself a bit taller, but the only solution he was offered was the same he's had to opt for in real life: platform shoes. Fascinatingly, this principle of authenticity can be quite dear to Madame: it can cost some €200,000 to produce a wax figure, from the initial modelling to the finishing touches. From the pore structure on the face to the most obscure birthmark, everything is replicated in meticulous precision work. This is a constant challenge to the specialists here. For example, football great Oliver Kahn wanted to be shown shouting wildly, but this meant that every tooth in his mouth had to be scanned precisely, all the way down to the gums. And Kennedy's quiff or the stylish hairdos on One Direction? Each hair is individually inserted into the scalp, so that each curl or bare spot is reproduced authentically. And hairstyles can change. Helene Fischer is currently getting long, straight hair, after the singer abandoned her chin-length bob. Angelina's also left Brad behind for a couple of weeks so she can switch to a cutting-edge dress.

A look at the jersey trousers

Tussauds places a great emphasis on the clothing, too. Cristiano Ronaldo personally examined the underwear for his double. An important point, because fans love checking out football players in their jersey trousers. The Vatican even sent a real garment for John Paul II's likeness.

Some research required

Given such high standards of authenticity, I looked a bit sceptically at Anne Frank, sitting with a smile writing in her diary. How faithful can replicas of historical persons be? But even here, Madame Tussauds has remains surprisingly consistent and regularly researches its characters in detail. If there aren't at least five authenticated written sources and visual material about the likeness of a historical figure, he or she will not be found here. It is the gestures and facial expressions of the figures that seem to be the secret to their vibrant charisma: their eyes all shimmer as if they have just blinked. Our ancient friends had to make do with complicated stone and glass paste inlays to give their images a lifelike look. In 2014, a fine shiny glaze is sufficient to give the inquisitive and serious look to a Johnny Depp.    

Dagmar: visitBerlin Blogger for visitBerlin.de/blog

Dagmar

is an archaeologist who has worked on Mayan sites in Central America. After ten years, she left the world of the Maya for a life in Berlin and found that the city a rich place for field research as well. She has fallen in love with Berlin's cultural treasures. Whether alone or with her children, she loves to be out and about in the city, taking the time to look deeper and turn over a stone here and there.