10th International Tattoo Hamburg

Published: 14 February, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 136, August, 2006

Let’s get one thing straight first off – everything about this convention, like the city it was held in, ROCKED! (And I DO mean in every sense of the word, as in ‘ruled’ and ‘rock’n’rolled my very soul!)

For those of you who’ve never visited this amazing northern German harbour city, Hamburg encompasses everything you could possibly wish for, whatever your bent. Beautiful, historic old parts, an exciting working harbour, the infamous Reeperbahn red-light district, some of the best bands and clubs catering for every genre, (Hamburg playing host to The Beatles way back before they broke it big time and home to the famous Star Club - it’s totally a ‘music city’) the ‘alternative’ quarter of St.Pauli with it’s world renowned footie club, F.C.St.Pauli, an abundance of excellent tattoo and piercing studios (including the oldest one in Germany – more of that later) and now, I’m honoured to add to this list – home to the BEST tattoo convention I’ve personally ever attended!

My trip was long overdue - I was a ‘virgin’ visitor to this, the 10th bi-annual convention held in one of the city centre’s major music venues, The Markthalle and I felt sorrow for missing all previous events, especially as there was no real excuse, as Hamburg is so near and relatively cheap to get to from my hometown of London. So here’s what made it so special for me and the rest of the 4,000 plus visitors and the tattoo artists alike!

The ‘secret ingredient’ that set it apart from all other conventions was the passionate input of the main organiser, Frank Krabbenhoeft, owner of the St.Pauli based Endless Pain Tattoo and Piercing Studio and his tireless team, who were also celebrating fifteen years of their studio. I had no problem identifying Frank – he was the one acting like ‘Billy Whizz’ rushing between all stands, participants and guests to ensure every need and whim desired was met. Having witnessed him and his crew all running themselves to the ground to ensure everyone enjoyed the event to the max. Yes, we had all of ‘the usual suspects’ as now expected at any successful tattoo convention. A great mix of 150 internationally renowned tattoo artists from all corners of the globe, Art Fusion, great ‘related’ stalls, daily competitions (Best of Day / Best of Show and all relevant categories, with the most unique trophies I’ve ever seen), traditional ‘hand technique’ tattooists (3 from Japan, 1 from Polynesia). But what bowled me over was the fantastic atmosphere and programme of events put together by Frank with obvious ‘tlc’ to ensure everyone attending left with such a buzz and natural high. 

Every working tattooist I spoke to was full of praise for Frank and his team – many try their damnedest to return each time from whichever part of the world they come (including hubby and wife team, Mike and Mary Skiver of Personal Art Studio, Maryland / Pennsylvania who were attending for the sixth time – Nick Caruso working out of Fly Rite and West Side Ink, NYC for the third time and our very own Theresa Gordon-Wade currently at Tradition 180, Derby) but Frank understandably has a waiting list of tattooists eager to come on board, so he tries to please everyone concerned, with a mix of ‘die-hard returnees’ plus first-timers alike (who this year included the likes of Scott Musick from Body Graphics Tattoo, Philadelphia, Xtophe of Tattoo Spirit Bordeaux, James Ann Barlean of Gypsy Rose Studio in South Dakota and the brilliant team from Eternal Tattoos, Dorking – Ruth and Robb). 

There were naturally many great German artists and studios represented (including Tom Hanke, Jorg of Akira Tattoo and Chriss Dettmer) as well as several other Hamburg Studios (nice bit of friendly, local rivalry!) plus other European faves, such as Tin-Tin Tatouages, Paris (Tin-Tin himself sadly couldn’t attend this time around, but Sacha kept everyone happy) Bad Bones from Lisbon, Bernie Luther from Austria (who won the ‘Best in Show’ award) plus too many to sadly name from the States, Canada, Japan, Mexico etc, with Travelin’ Woody making it over from New Zealand.

Everyone involved described the atmosphere as “being part of a huge family” and the fact that Frank looks after his tattoo artists so well has a beneficiary knock on effect on the whole convention. Apparently, upon arrival, the attending tattooists were treated to a slap-up meal in a traditional Hamburg restaurant, enabling everyone to renew old acquaintances, make new friends and generally ‘bond together’ before everything kicks-off. Then at the end of the last night, he hired a boat (with non-stop food, drink and partying!) to take them on a two-hour trip around Hamburg, followed by a party into the wee small hours at a privately hired local nightclub. Thrown in on top of all this, some of the best free, non-stop backstage catering to die for by all accounts. As I was advised this was “the norm” for all of Endless Pain’s Hamburg Conventions, it’s no wonder that the tattooists all clubbed together to show their appreciation and love for Frank, by presenting him with a special surprise plaque to commemorate his convention’s 10 successful years at the end of the convention.

What also contributed to the overall ‘wow-ness’ of the event was the diverse bands booked and virtually non-stop entertainment on the main stage, which was worthy of the entry price alone! Band-wise, we had Hamburg’s finest – ‘Small Town Riot’, a fantastic punk and disorderly attack on the senses. Then one of Denmark’s top rock acts, ‘Candy Crash’, fronted by delectable girl-singer, Maje and featuring Karsten, the brilliant former guitarist from L.A. based band, Horror Pops, who gave a powerful ‘garage-rock’ set. Also up, were ‘Sixes and Sevens’ from Munich and to top it off – Slim Jim’s Phantom Trio (who most certainly had come all the way over from The States!) featuring former drummer from the legendary Stray Cats - Slim Jim himself, who held a separate autograph signing session for his hoards of adoring admirers. 

But as if these amazing bands weren’t enough to stimulate everyone’s senses, we were also treated to Polynesian fire dancers, stunts and effects from famous German comedian, Fat King Konrad (who acted as Master of Ceremonies throughout, and had me in stitches, even though my command of the German language wouldn’t fill the back of a Briefmarke!) a ‘world-meister’ yo-yo spinner (no really - trust me – he was breathtakingly amazing!) a comedienne ‘hula-hoop’ dancer from The Moscow State Circus, a performing ‘Fakir’ (‘bed-of-nails’ job, the works, and a spectacular ‘fire-breathing’ act, ‘Jens Jensen Team’ from Berlin.

All of this, and STILL more! Also in attendance were the total ‘extremes’ of the tattooing world as far as ‘age’ goes – probably the ‘oldest’ and ‘youngest’ tattooists around (certainly in Germany at least) We were treated to the presence of Germany’s very own living-legend version of Sailor Jerry, dear old Herbert Hoffman, now retired to the Swiss mountains at the age of 86 and no longer officially tattooing (unless an old, beloved friend can trek up to his mountain retreat and persuade him otherwise!) who sat untiringly, lovingly recounting his amazing tales and life story to a constant steady stream of admirers from dusk ‘til dawn on all three days. (Herbert once owned the previously mentioned ‘oldest tattoo studio in Germany’, now in the hands of his not so gracious nephew apparently)  Whilst at the other end of the scale, was Jason, son of Olaf from Hot Flesh Tattoo Studio, Germany, aged just 13 ‘years young’, who was happily and confidently tattooing plenty of willing subjects alongside his dad throughout the convention for ‘pocket-money’ prices! (Jason has apparently been the subject of numerous television and newspaper reports across Germany, so many people wanted to be inked by him both for his growing talent and ‘novelty factor’ alike, it seemed)

What appealed to me overall, was the fact that this particular convention ISN’T about ‘making big bucks’, because it’s obvious from what I gleaned from questioning various attendees, that so much is poured back into making this event as great an experience as possible for all concerned. In fact, I personally couldn’t see how Frank and his Endless Pain Studio would be able to break even. The entry price was a mere 15 Euros (approx. a tenner) a day, or 35 Euros for all three days, with doors open from 12 noon ‘til 10pm the first two days (being the Saturday and Easter Sunday) and 12 noon’til 8pm on the last – so it MUST be for the genuine love of all things tattooed! On top of which, all of the Art Fusion works (which included some amazing talent from Theresa Gordon-Wade, Nickels from Endless Pain, and Chriss Dettmer to name but a few) plus art works from a separate exhibition adorning a back wall of the main hall by Alex Boyko and guitars donated by Frank and signed by Slim Jim, were to be auctioned off for the charity ‘DebRA’, which is a UK based charity working on behalf of people suffering from the genetic skin blistering condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa. Frank had first learned about this when he was attending the 1st London Tattoo Convention last October. He just happened to be flicking through the T.V. channels in his hotel room one night, when a documentary about Jonny Kennedy, entitled “The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off’ not only caught his eye, but so pulled at his heart-strings as a tattooist working so closely with people’s ‘skin’, he was moved to find out more about the charity concerned with helping such afflicted people the second he got home to Hamburg. Now THAT sums up the kind of person this guy is – all I can say, is roll on the 11th Hamburg Tattoo Convention in 2008. Now I’ve discovered it, I’ll try my up most to never miss it again and neither should you, be you the ‘inker or the inked!’

I’ll leave the final words to Mr Endless Pain himself, from the convention’s programme, - “Prost und Halleluja!”




Skin Deep 136 1 August 2006 136