The Next 1000 Miles... - Craigy Lee

Published: 25 June, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 213, June, 2012

My next two conventions are both taking place in Germany, the first in a small town called Plauen in east Germany, which is in its first year, and the second in the larger city of Frankfurt in western Germany, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year… two shows, two polar opposites!

I organised working at the Plauen tattoo convention only a week before the show, last minute to say the least. The organisers had a problem with their website and email, so I hadn’t even had a confirmation, just a short facebook message saying “there is a booth available, see you there.” So I had slight reservations about the show as I like being organised. As we get closer to our destination, we drive further and further into fields, farmland and through small (very small) towns, and I start wondering where on earth (or in Germany) Plauen actually is! However, we break into the outskirts of the town and the buildings start getting higher and denser. The architecture here is beautiful; a lot of the buildings have ornate stone carvings and murals of angels, animals, cherubs and faces in the brickwork.

We arrive at the convention to set up and quickly realise nobody really speaks English. We are directed over to Bobbi, a large chap who looks rather intimidating. I walk over and introduce myself, a warming expression comes over his face as he proclaims: “Ahhhh, Craigy Lee! We are so happy you made it, please come, I have a booth for you here. There is food and if you need anything else just come and find me.” And with that short sentence, all my reservations fade away as we are made very welcome indeed.

The show is in its first year and as such, is quite small. However I like that as it means I have the chance to walk around and see everything – most artists are local, as is the entertainment; a local marching band make a couple of performances throughout the weekend, and there are live bands and a freak show by Lord Insanity. Saturday is pretty busy with many of the younger crowd coming over to talk and get tattooed. Keen to practice their English, many proudly tell me “we love to visit London, we go over at least once a year.” Sunday starts off a little slower and picks up in the afternoon, ending with the tattoo competitions. I really enjoyed the weekend – a small town show with a personal feel made us very welcome, the organisers, artists and public were all very endearing, and it gave me a real feel of what east Germans are really like.

After such a warm and pleasant weekend, we drive up north of Berlin to Oranienburg to visit Sachsenhausen, which for those of you who don’t know, was a World War II concentration camp; it is now a monument and museum to the memory of all those who died. The museum displays many Nazi posters, which as art, are very bold and visually striking. There are three very ornate stained glass windows in the entrance and written accounts of Jewish artists who were spared their lives in exchange for work painting and designing propaganda posters. Most buildings are still intact or have been rebuilt, so you can walk around and get a real feel for what went on. The sun is shining and the ‘camp’ is surrounded by grass and green trees. On such a tranquil day, its pretty hard to imagine what went on here.

We take it all in before we drive across to Frankfurt.

We arrive at a monstrous convention hall and realise that this weekend will be the complete opposite of what we experienced in Plauen. Frankfurt has been running for 20 years and grows bigger each time; for those of you who haven’t been, this convention is huge! Loads of international artists travel to work the show (I won’t even start naming names as I could fill my word count with that alone), and it has become a cornerstone of the European convention calendar and a highlight in many peoples diaries. As I wander amongst the crowds like a lost puppy, I do manage to find a few friendly faces, Brent McGowan from New Zealand is working on a whole aisle dedicated to maori and handpoked tattooing. There is a large ‘backstage’ area where artists can escape the crowds, get some free food and drinks, and recharge. I walk up and down and up and down the aisles, but I think there are still booths I missed over the weekend. Due to the sheer volume of people wandering around, it made it very hard to have a quick look around in between tattoos. But despite the huge, impersonal feel of the hall and size of the event, the organisers did manage to get around to every single booth, thanking every artist for attending in person, and give everyone a small china pig to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary. An original show poster from 1993 was also taken to each booth, signed by each artist and presented to organiser, Tommy, at the after show party. Not every convention is for every artist and some people complain Frankfurt is too big and impersonal, however I enjoyed the show and meeting new people as I always do, but I have to say, I am more excited for my next weekend in Ireland and getting back to talking fluent English!

I first visited Ireland what feels like a lifetime ago, so the opportunity to go and work a convention in the small coastal town of Donegal was very welcome.

We took the early morning ferry from Holyhead and arrived at the ferry port of Dublin and spent the day walking around and seeing the sights. One thing I noticed before we even parked up was the amount of tattoo studios. They seem to be everywhere like cheap fast food joints, but the coolest shop we found was definitely Classic Ink, in Temple Bar. The shop had a real old school feel to it – hand-painted shop signs and windows, and walls covered in flash that gave a nostalgic feeling when you walked in… this is what tattoo shops are suppose to be like in a back street off the main road surrounded by bars and pubs. Getting tattooed should be an adventure, an experience – who wants to get tattooed in a place that looks like a hair salon?

We finished walking the lanes and cobbled streets and then headed for the Guinness brewery, I think it’s a God-given right that you have to drink Guinness in Dublin. And the freshest Guinness you are ever going to drink is most definitely in the brewery itself. After indulging in the black stuff, it was time to drive to the west coast and to Donegal where the Northwest Tattoo Show is being held. The show was formerly known as the Killybegs Tattoo Convention, but due to the previous venue closing down, they moved the show to the next town and the Abbey Hotel. Donegal is a small fishing town surrounded by beautiful scenery and coastline. The show is held in a nice ballroom in the back of the hotel overlooking the water and just across the road from Zombie Dolls Tattoo Parlour who are organising the event.

It’s probably the smallest show I have ever worked, but that gives it a nice friendly feel. More like a party or a gathering of friends than a soulless convention held in a big exhibition centre. There are around 30 booths, but the size doesn’t mean it’s just locals. There are artists from Canada, Spain Finland and Poland as well as all over Ireland. The show starts at 6pm on Friday and rolls along a little slow. However as I learn very quickly, the Irish like to drink and party late into the evening (or early hours of the morning), meaning things get going a little later. Saturday and Sunday roll along and we have fun talking and hanging out with some of the local artists and enjoy some of the local food, including the best sausages I have ever eaten! Sometimes these shows go by very quickly, and sadly my week in Ireland shoots past all too fast, but I shall definitely be coming back for one of the bigger shows.


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee


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