Tattoo studios were once the domain of big cities. Often they were located in rather disreputable areas, but times have changed. Not only have tattoo studios gone respectable, they've even gone small town.
Coming soon to a neighborhood near you?
Right in the middle of Euskirchen, a town of just over 28,000 people near the western city of Cologne, there's a small store that looks slightly out of place right off the pedestrian shopping street. It's called "Living Art," and owner Rainer Peters does his best to get under the skin of the residents here--not by mocking their small-town values, but by injecting inks under their epidermis and giving them tattoos.
Peters himself is a big man, with a dragon and devil's head on his muscular arm. During a recent visit, he was cleaning his equipment since modern tattoo studios have to follow strict hygiene regulations. Not only do the authorities require it, here in small-town Euskirchen, cleanliness is next to godliness.
"In small towns its just important that you're neat and well-kept," he said. "People are more demanding in that respect." In a city it's more relaxed, because of the anonymity factor, he said.
"In Cologne, for example, I could go out in my underwear and no one would think twice about it," he said. "But if I did that here, everyone in the city would soon know that that guy from the tattoo studio is running around in his underwear."
German celebrities Bela B. (left) and Franka Potente showing off their skin art
While Peters cleaned the studio, the next client was already sitting in the waiting room. Tanja Kaiser, 20, wanted a tattoo on her lower back. She already knew the design, a cluster of thorns. It's "tribal looking" and very much the rage among young people these days. Even though getting a tattoo is a big step, Tanja had thought about all the ramifications.
"I've thought about it for a long time, since I'll have it my whole life," she said. "But I've picked out a place that I can either show if I want to or hide if I don't want to see it."
Keep your options open
That kind of attitude is common in tattoo studios in small towns, according to Peters, who was going about getting together his tools of the trade: the tattoo machine, its needle gun and inks.
People in more rural areas want to be able to hide their skin designs from eyes that might not approve, he explained.
"Here in the country, people are more conservative, and that's reflected in the kinds of tattoos people get," he said.
They don't want something that's too big that will show when they're just wearing a T-shirt in the summer. They don't want to get nasty remarks, so they're very careful about their decisions, he said.
While more and more tattoo studios are opening up in smaller towns in Germany, acceptance of the skin art is still spotty. Skepticism or outright rejection is the most common attitude, although curiosity about the dermal art is growing, probably more than people want to admit.
Tanja Kaiser, however, said she didn't care if she got a few rude stares in the future. She was ready to go under the needle, and tattoo artist Peters revved up his machine and got to work. He shined a bright spotlight on the design he had already drawn on Tanja's lower back and began to follow the pattern with the needle gun.
"I can take it," Tanja said. "I can't really describe how it feels, it's just really strange. You can't compare it to any other kind of pain."
The needle at work
Line for line he traced the picture on her back, the needle moving at lightning speed, penetrating her top layer of skin and injecting the ink in the dermis, the second layer, where it will remain. While the epidermis, or top skin layer, renews itself constantly, the dermis stays as it is.
It took about an hour before Tanja's tattoo was complete. It's fairly large and extends across her entire lower back. For her pain, and the tattoo, she paid €300 ($369), but she felt it was worth it. Her aunt, who came to pick her up, was also enthusiastic about her niece's new, very personal artwork.
"It's a great tattoo," she said. "I'm thinking about whether I should get one for myself."