The Ultimate Guide to Berlin's Incredible Tattoo Scene
Berlin is a mecca for those looking to get inked by some of the world's best artists. You need only to walk around Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, or even Prenzlauer Berg for proof. And although the tattoo craze has been happening for quite some time here, it's becoming more prevalent in mainstream society. Seriously, it's not uncommon to see everyone from police officers and young parents to H&M salespeople rocking knuckle tats and full sleeves.
There are over 1,000 different studios around Germany’s capital -- although the actual amount is hard to pin down. And these can be anything from full-blown shops to hard-to-book (and find) private studios. So in an effort to help you sort through the inky waters, we went out and culled some of the best artists in the game and spoke to a few of them about their craft. We also pulled together some of Berlin's best shops (if a month-long waitlist just isn't your thing).
Dots to Lines’ unique and intricate approach to blackwork and dotwork has stoked a social media phenomenon of almost half a million followers on Instagram alone. The man behind the needle is Chaim Machlev, an Israeli expat who only learned tattoo and design when he moved to Berlin in 2012 (which is why some are keen to call him a prodigy). “I understood my only chance would be to do something that nobody did until now,” says Machlev. “So I started to do what I know how to do, and tried to investigate how I could interpret what I knew how to do on computers into graphic art, and from graphic art onto the skin.” Basically, he conceptualizes his pieces using computers, creating hypnagogic shapes that perfectly contour to customers’ bodies. Every tattoo is totally one-of-a-kind and flows along the natural frame, which explains how the artist’s reached a two-year waiting list.
Valentin Hirsch has created a genre entirely his own, set in a foundation of blackwork and geometrical symmetry, expanding on themes of nature, humanity, and life and death. Valentin’s wild images of leopards, lions, and other beasts clashed up against human skulls are vivid and incredibly realistic, to say the least. “To this day, I still say to people I’m an artist and not a tattooer,” he says. “What eventually drew me into wanting to tattoo is the idea of how a fine needle can precisely work into the skin. As a drawer, I love details and how a fine needle can do that.” He tends to book just a few months in advance, carefully selecting projects from a steady stream of requests, and recently completed a beautiful book of his work called Symmetries.
If you’re looking to get a tattoo that’s surreal and offbeat, look no further than the watercolor Instagrams of Julia Rehme. The German artist and former clothing design student is an expert in bright colors, splatters, and fades. From Rorschach inkblots and exotic animals to flora and fauna and more, she’s open to new ideas and going very abstract. Find Rehme at the intimate private studio NOÏA, available by appointment only.
Marc Fischer is a master of realistic, life-like portraits. Check out his Instagram for spot-on pop culture effigies from Star Wars and Blade Runner to Elvis Presley. His works aren’t limited to just the lionized however, and if you’re looking for any kind of portrait (whether it be your mom, dad, or pup) he can make basically anything look like a photograph -- rich in shading and fine detail. Fischer is set up at Pechschwarz, in the heart of Kreuzberg.
Toshihide Okada -- or "Hide" for short -- is Berlin’s only tattoo artist doing iruzemi, or the ancient Japanese method of hand poking with a needle. He’s been tattooing for nearly 20 years, and started out as an apprentice for one of Japan’s highest tattoo masters in the Horitoshi Family. Okada owned his own shop in Tokyo, but grew tired of fighting stereotypes against tattoos at home. “People in Japan are becoming more relaxed (about tattoos), but there is still a stigma,” he says. “I recently had a German government worker very interested in Japanese tattoo history and culture. In Japan, it’s the complete opposite. It’s a lot of Yakuza.” Okada’s been in Berlin since 2013, working at one of Berlin’s more traditional punk tattoo shops, Für Immer.
Lus Lip, a.k.a. Lars Uwe, is is one of Berlin’s great underground talents. Although he doesn't post on social media that often, his skills are still highly sought after by those looking for a gallery-worthy portrait or a warmly-colored new traditional animal piece. He's been in the tattoo game for years and you can currently find him holed up at the Loxodrom studio on Prenzlauer Berg’s main thread, Kastanienallee.
Working out of a private courtyard atelier with a garden on Prenzlauer Allee, Julia Toebel creates her soft, poetic works by appointment only. She started tattooing in Japan in 2001, after meeting an artist from there and continued learning in Italy. Since 2014, Julia tattoos out of her atelier and also hosts other tattooers there too. She works splashes of watercolor for tattoos that look like fairytale book illustrations, ranging from dreamy depictions of femininity to nature. Toebel uses small bursts or full vibrant washes of color in a seriously bewitching way.
Hailing from South Korea, YoungWoong Han is extremely new to the Berlin scene but making quite a splash. He’s been tattooing here for four months, based at the long-running shop Rose of no man's land deep in Neukölln. Han has been tattooing for nine years, living in Taipei, Sydney, and Seoul. His neo-traditional tattoos are vivid and lifelike, and his specialty are portraits of cats which pop off of the skin. “Tattooing cats is very fun for me because they have so many colours, details,” he says, adding that his three cats living with his parents back home in Korea are definitely an inspiration.
Swiss-born Kreatyves runs a private studio, laboring over surrealist works and ancient symbolism. His atelier also doubles as a print shop, where he creates original large format motifs on everything from white paper, wood, electronic device cases, and more (available on his website). When he's not tattooing, he often does live painting -- including a recent installation at Zurich airport with other artists.
One of Russia’s star tattooers (with around 470,000 Instagram followers), Sasha Masiuk is currently based in Berlin. Since becoming self-taught three years ago, she's now the boss lady behind two studios in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. She’s known for being skilled at monotone, linework, and dotwork -- especially within her signature floral designs.
In Germany’s capital, Sasha has done guest spots at AKA and most recently, Erntezeit (see below). “My first visit to Berlin was last winter,” she says. “I came here to tattoo as I had a lot of requests from over the world and it was easy for my clients to come here for tattoo sessions. My husband Pavel and I loved the city at once because of the creative atmosphere and everybody was so dope.”
Black Mirror Parlor is the ultimate in eye candy; a beauteous studio where you can get inked amongst funky chandeliers, taxidermy, and fur throws. It’s owned by Sarah B. Bolen, a Canadian tattoo artist who also doubles as an interior designer. Black Mirror’s decor has been thrifted, selected from flea markets, or are Bolen’s own handmade (or fixer-upper) creations. “It was always my dream to open a studio like this, and in Berlin it was possible,” she says. “I had one [studio] in Toronto in a pretty shitty neighborhood, but super small for a ridiculous rent -- like thousands and thousands of dollars. But this is the first really awesome studio I've owned. ”
Black Mirror’s decor is reflective of Bolen’s inking style: American traditionals and designs with tendencies towards the Victorian era. The studio often hosts visiting artists, including German traditionalist Myra Brodsky who also vibes in Victorianism, Art Nouveau, and Rococo designs.
Neukölln has seen a lot of new tattoo shops spring up in the last few years, but one of the most established is Toe Loop, run by long-time Berliner and painter Oliver Strupp. “I'm not so concerned about money, being from a family of artists,” says owner Strupp. “It’s a small space but it’s a nice atmosphere to be working closely with other people. I don’t ever want it to become a factory.” This cozy den consistently fills its roster with international artists and, as of late, has hosted plenty of guests from Eastern Europe and Russia. Check out Flash Fridays, a regular event where you can come in and pick a small piece off a sheet just like the old days (follow Facebook for the next one).
This art space-cum-tattoo studio is a haven for emerging artists in Berlin, and the aforementioned Valentin Hirsch and Sarah B. Bolen both built up recognition here. Right now it’s got a crew of eight artists, including some longtime residents who tattoo lots of sculptures and smaller blackworks. There is a steady rotation of fantastic guest artists too. Watch Facebook to find out about live gigs, art exhibition openings and more.
As one of Berlin’s most established tattoo shops, consistency and quality are trademarks of the pieces coming out of Blut und Eisen (Blood and Ice). The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed and you won’t be leered at for a walk-in or smaller piece. That said, the resident artists are famous for delivering large full back pieces and sleeves in the style of new tribal and geometrics. Check out Gerhard Wiesbeck, a graphic tattoo artist known for trippy sprawling designs in red, white, and black.
This straight-up tattoo studio (no piercings here folks) offers a range of styles including traditionals, dotwork, and blackwork. Opened in 2012, owner Ivan Milasinovic, who originally hails from Montenegro, leads a close-knit team of German and international artists. “We are just a down-to-earth shop,” says Milasinovic. “Not more, not less. No drama, no rock ‘n’ attitude. Just how it should be.”
This Kreuzberg studio fancies itself a walk-in shop, so it’s a great place to scratch that spontaneous itch for a little ink. While appointments are also available, there are always at least two artists available for walk-ins throughout the day and an ever-rotating list of guest artists from Germany and abroad. A “no catalogue mentality” ensures that customers always get something unique and personal. “Sometimes someone comes with the idea of an infinity sign with a date in it, and leaves with a hippo in a balloon,” says Kater.
With green-gold wallpaper and handsome antique furniture, this is basically what it’d be like getting tattooed in a Wes Anderson movie. The shop, with a name that means “Chest or Thigh” in English, takes no walk-ins and only custom tattoos by appointment. Brust oder Keule recently celebrated its three-year anniversary and boasts a few of Berlin’s most well-known neo-traditional artists, Marco Schmidgunst, Daniel Gensch and Sebastian Brade, as well as piercing services from owner Byxe.
Erntezeit, or in German, “Harvest time" is the perfect name for this rustic parlor. It’s location is truly one-of-a-kind, spread out over two floors in a turn-of-the-century wood building. Studio co-owner Christoph Aribert tattoos with his own handmade Eisen machines, which he’s technically designed to suit his own aesthetics. Aribert, who tattooed previously at Blut & Eisen, has over 20 years experience with Japanese, blackwork, and traditionals as specialties.
Female power duo Axel Ejsmont and Mirja Fenris are known for elegant, precise line drawings working almost exclusively with black ink and minimal color. Polish-born Esjmont does dainty designs with blackwork and dotwork motifs. Her storybook style is in perfect harmony with her other profession: an illustrator for book covers, CDs, and publications in Europe and America. Her studio partner Fenris is equally stylistic, crafting ornamental pieces that blend lines, silhouettes, and sacred geometry.
Red Chapel’s resident artists Björn Liebner and Iban Maya are stalwarts in Berlin’s tattoo scene. Both like to keep the shop elusive, with just a Facebook page and no website (Maya also doesn’t have Instagram). Here you can count on large, finely detailed pieces flared full of color. It's by appointment only -- although the shop’s other artist, Joline Miez, often takes smaller works on short notice.
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