Berlin is known as the LGBTQIA+ capital of the world, with its reputation dating 100 years back. The city welcomes all types of people, making it the perfect place for otherwise marginalized groups to feel not only at home but also celebrated and – why not? – normal. Its nightlife is famous for being open to all sorts of experimentation.
In the 24h+ parties, people from all walks of life express themselves freely and expansively. Everybody can exist, take up space, and move however they feel comfortable.
What is perhaps not so widely known is that tattoos are also a fundamental part of the queer expression in Berlin. The open-minded character of the city, added to a vibrant and diverse international community, proved perfect for a prolific queer tattoo scene to thrive.
Many studios that aim to be safe(r) spaces have opened all over the city, allowing artists from around the world to settle here and develop their own styles. The scene has grown exponentially in the last 5 years and in 2019 the very first tattoo event showcasing only queer talent happened in the city.
Queer Tattoo Convention
The tattoo artist Ina Bär a.k.a. Bearadise Ink spent 3 years envisioning a space for queer tattoo artists to connect, share knowledge, and spread love but couldn’t find the right venue for it. It finally happened in September 2019, after she got connected to the venue SO36 through a tattoo appointment. The space, famous for being a place of cultural resistance that stands against all types of discrimination, was a good location.
The first Queer Tattoo Convention came together in under 2 months, attracting more than 400 guests. “People were literally crying and some got their first tattoos done there. Everyone was super busy and nearly 100 tattoos were done that day with a lot of follow-up appointments.” Ina says.
A second edition of the convention is in the plans for when big gatherings are possible again. “Hopefully for next year, we will be able to have a 2-day event with more artists, performances, vendors, and queerness of course!”
Queerness and tattoos have become interwoven in the last decades but the connection between the two is still up for debate even within the scene. Martin Jahn, artist tattooing at Trade Mark, believes tattoos are bigger than just one group of people, “tattoos are for everybody.”
Fercha Pombo, who tattoos at their own private home studio, explains that “tattoos have existed in different cultures around the world for a really long time, mostly to say things about people’s occupation or ancestry.”
Rio, tattooing at Fantasy, agrees that “queerness has no specific aesthetic” but also points to another direction. “Queerness bends the rules of tattooing, leaving old preconceptions of what it’s supposed to be – because that’s what queerness does.”
As with most rituals and art forms that have been around for long stretches of time, the practice of committing ink to skin seems to have taken different connotations lately. “Adorning one’s body with tattoos can be part of breaking free from destructive heteronormative capitalist beauty standards.” weighs in Sven Eigengrau, resident at TTTRIP Tattoo.
Julim Rosa, resident at Baby, elaborates: “Tattoos can have a really important part in the process of transformation, self-acceptance and self-liberation. In this process, tattoos have a big role, since they are a powerful tool for claiming our physical self”.
This perspective is also shared by people who are on the receiving end of the process. Lea Rose, 20+ tattoos and counting, believes that “tattoos are a way of taking ownership of my body. Using tattoos to express and embrace queerness in a society that decided you are different anyway can be really empowering.”
The ‘No Style’ Aesthetic
The city that nourishes so many unique forms of self-expression also makes for the perfect environment for a wide range of styles to thrive. According to Florian Hirnhack, owner and resident at TTTRIP, Berlin’s “a place with a high demographic exchange and many individuals gathering and where different opinions evolve so it’s a great place for artists and results in a style pluralism”.
It’s only natural that such a stimulating context would have an impact on the work of tattoo artists. Rio adds that “the tattoo scene in Berlin is exciting because there are so many people coming and going all the time, leaving their mark and shaping the community. It’s always changing, always in transition”.
In good queer fashion, it seems the only common element in their style is the refusal to be defined by pre-defined labels. Sven believes that “queer tattooing stands for innovative styles and a more inclusive tattoo experience.”
One thing all of them can agree on is the importance of creating a safe(r) container for the tattoo experience. There are different ways to create a welcoming environment, and they all involve more individualized attention to the person getting a tattoo.
“Feeling safe is very important. We expose our body and feel pain, we let someone mark us for life”, says Lea. The tattoo process begins with choosing the artist. “An artist that is also queer makes it safer because there are mutual understanding and respect” she concludes.
The next step is the first contact and booking, which also factor in the overall experience. For Sven, attention to the stage that precedes the tattoo means a pronoun section in the booking form and showcasing a variety of body types when designing placement proposals.
Rio explains that at Fantasy there’s a manifesto and a code of conduct for both artists and clients and continues “in my practice, I pay lots of attention to balancing out the power dynamics, set clear boundaries while sharing a very intimate moment with clients.”
“Trade Mark is not a street shop, which means no walk-ins so people can get comfortable and experience the tattoo as something special,” explains Martin “with no other people watching you, you can be yourself.”
Regardless of whether you identify as queer or what kind of ink you’re looking to get, the queer tattoo scene in Berlin has something for you.
Text: Bruna Corsato
Bruna Corsato is a co-creator of narratives, working mainly with photography and the written word. They’re most interested in the intersection of identity, environment, culture, and meaning-making. She co-creates content focused on queerness, the climate emergency, psychedelics, individual expression, and community building.