This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.Tattoos let you to express a part of yourself to the world – like, for instance, that you’re a member of an ancient warrior tribe, or that you love mayonnaise. Considering the fact that ink is pretty permanent, most people are relatively careful with what they etch onto their bodies. But sometimes, intrusive thoughts get the best of us and an idiot idea can look more like an enticing stroke of genius.
A celebration of history's biggest fuck-ups.
No matter how stupid or impulsive, every single ink has a story behind it. A stranger might see your hand-poked tattoo as a sign you’re slightly unhinged, but to you, that same design brings to mind memories of your first flatshare or a night out with the lads. Here at VICE, we don’t believe in bad tattoos – we prefer to call them “questionable gems”. To prove it, we asked some of our colleagues to share their dumbest tattoo stories.
Tom Niesporek – Associate Producer
“Last year, when I was in Portugal with my best friend, we decided to treat ourselves to a night in Lisbon. We didn't have much money, so we ended up staying [at an Airbnb] in a housing estate for €20 a night. There were a few groups of people hanging around the block who would whistle when the cops showed up. Our host let us into her flat on the 13th floor. She was heavily tattooed, even on her face. She gave us some weed and said that if we wanted a tattoo, she would give that to us, too. We also saw this half-naked gangster getting tattooed in her apartment at the time.We decided to get the dumbest designs we could think of. I thought about it for about five minutes and decided to get a tattoo of Tom from Tom & Jerry based on the WhatsApp sticker. My best friend made an even dumber choice. One night, we were extremely drunk somewhere in the city, and ended up in a kebab shop. He decided to get the entire logo of the kebab shop – phone number, address, opening hours and all.
The tattoo artist found it so funny that she took a photo of us that’s now hanging in the Airbnb. She also practically gave us the tattoos for free – we only paid about €20 each."
Valentin Waibel – Production Assistant
“During the first lockdown, I moved into a housing estate in Berlin with my partner. The entire floor, where eight people lived, became a quarantine flatshare bubble. At some point, I ordered a tattoo machine online. One of my roommates is an illustrator and is also heavily tattooed. So I said to him, ‘Since you can draw, you can probably tattoo too.’Of course, he couldn't. He had never done it before. I ended up getting three tattoos I somehow like, but each of them is pretty shitty in its own way – they are either poorly drawn or blurry. On my upper arm on the left, I have a smiley face, and on my right forearm, a hand with painted nails holding a burning match. But the dumbest tattoo of all is on my legs. It reads ‘OKAY’ just above the knees: ‘OK’ on the right leg and ‘AY’ on the other. It was really stupid to get them tattooed in that spot because I'm super ticklish there. I couldn't stay still. Now, no one can read what it says.”
Niki Boussemaere – Freelance Copy Editor / Social Manager
“This is my first and only tattoo. I got it when I was 19, I didn't want something that everybody had, like an infinity symbol and shit like that. For me, the idea that a tattoo has to have meaning is a bit outdated, and yeah, I'm a very impulsive person. So one day, I was on the food truck where I used to work, talking [about tattoos] with my boss who is this old reformed hippie. All of a sudden I was like: ‘Oh, a "fuck you" tattoo would be really cool.’
I had that idea in my head for maybe a week or two. And then I was like, ‘Fuck it, I'm taking my bike to the tattoo parlour.’ I came in and said, ‘Hey, I'd like to get this tattoo.’ The guy just shouted into the back of parlour, ‘Does anybody want to put a “fuck you” tattoo on this girl?’ Some other guy was just like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to’. Two weeks later, I got that tattoo. Is it the nicest or the most clearly defined? No. But it didn't hurt nor cost much either. Once, I was also working on that same food truck and a guy came up to me and started getting really mad, saying it really wasn’t nice to have a tattoo like that, that it was very offensive. But then he turned around and pulled up his shirt and he had a ‘fuck you’ tattoo on his back, too. That was really funny. And a couple of years later, I was working at the same festival. I met a guy and he did the whole fucking schtick again. I had totally forgotten that had happened, and then I realised it was that same guy when he showed me his back. I was like, ‘No, dude, you can't do this to me again.’”
Jamie Clifton – Editor-in-Chief, VICE Culture
“This was my first ever tattoo, which makes a lot of sense when you look at it. I got it when I was 18 while interrailing around Europe – hence the imaginative train design. It cost me €20 and a six-pack of beer.One night at our Budapest hostel, I mentioned I wanted to get something to memorialise the trip. The receptionist said he knew somebody, and the next day took us to what looked suspiciously like a storage lockup. Inside, we were told it was [a spot] where a local gang stashed their cash and drugs. We were also introduced to a guy who'd just been released from jail on a firearms charge, who then flashed us the gun he had tucked into his trousers.
I remember thinking it probably wasn't the best idea to carry what was presumably an illegal firearm right after being jailed for firearms charges. Right after that thought exited my mind, I was told he’d be tattooing me. I got the sense he hadn't done many tattoos prior to mine. But when you're 18, locked in a small room in a foreign country with a man holding a gun, you sort of just go with it, don't you?Long story short: I now have this janky train outline on my arm for the rest of my life. Good stuff!”
Matern Boeselager, Deputy Editor-in-Chief
“A friend of mine had spontaneously decided to get a ‘rope nut’ tattooed on himself during a drinking sesh in Munich. The joke: We grew up in an area near Frankfurt called Taunus, so we thought that ‘Tau-Nuss’ [rope-nut in German] would be a fitting gangster sign.When he proudly sent me the photo the next day, I was immediately envious. So I drew a rope nut myself and got it tattooed a few days later in Frankfurt. After that, we went to a pub in Taunus and practically showed the tattoos off to everyone. They were all very excited. It was a really nice day, and to this day, the tattoo reminds me of it.PS: The letters and numbers form a secret code I'm not allowed to reveal, or else I'll lose my foot.”