Frank Weber, owner of the Kreuzstich Tattoo Studio in Adalbertstraße and founder of Europe’s oldest tattoo convention, rolls up his sleeve. “This one I got at a bus stop in California. I was waiting for the bus, and an old Chinese guy knew how to do tattoos,” he grins, showing off a full-arm collage of snakes and skulls. It goes well with his general look: Black leather jacket, black jeans and t-shirt and a long, loosely tied ponytail hanging down his back. A little necklace with golden wings glitters discreetly on his chest, the only indication of Weber’s rumoured longtime membership in the Hell’s Angels biker gang.
It was like a tiny island with bikers and hippies, everybody knew each other… and then came the Ossis.
“I started my first biker club in 1977, just a few streets from here,” says the 55-year-old. A born-and-bred Kreuzberger, he grew up in Waldemarstraße and went to the Otto-Wels- Schule in Prinzenstraße. “In the 1960s and 1970s Kottbusser Tor was a poor and dirty area, there was dog shit all over – like the Bronx in New York. But it was also more free. It was like a tiny island with bikers and hippies, everybody knew each other… and then came the Ossis,” he says, wrinkling his nose.
In 1981 Weber opened his first shop, selling Harley Davidson equipment. But after five years and little profit, he made a spontaneous decision: “I had been taking English classes in an evening school, but that was a pain in the ass, and I didn’t learn anything. So I took my motorbike and drove to the Luton tattoo convention. After working a few years in a bar in east London, I’d learned English.” He travelled the world, working as a barkeeper and a doorman, but eventually came back to Kreuzberg, where he opened Kreuzstich in 2009.
Here, he’s close to his home and his three adult children, who all live nearby. Last year, he celebrated the 25th anniversary of Berlin’s Tattoo Convention, which he originally founded as an experiment in a friend’s discotheque at Oranienplatz. The first year, no less than 4000 people showed up, and today the festival has grown to be the biggest of its kind in Europe.
Chatting to the little plump man with the smiling wrinkles around his eyes, it’s hard to imagine him being involved in any kind of criminal biker business. And he won’t elaborate on the subject. These days, Weber is often to be found at the studio in Adalbertstraße – he doesn’t do tattoos himself anymore, but likes “to keep an eye on things”. And although he has to deal with both “the youngsters whose rich parents have bought Kreuzberg apartments for them” and “the Turks, who are all competition-minded”, he still feels at home in his Kiez. “We live with each other even though we have our differences, and there is no violence between us. People in the area know who I am. The Turks even call me ‘uncle’,” he says proudly, pulling down the sleeves of his jacket.