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A Munich Tattoo Artist Carries On The Family Business

Peter Laubach at work
Peter Laubach at work
Julian Dorn

MUNICH — Peter Laubach used a tattoo needle for the first time when he was 11 years old. A friend asked him for a sailboat tattoo, offering him four Bavarian meat loaf sandwiches as payment. He earned his friend's appreciation and a sharp paternal slap for his efforts.

Now 60 years old, Laubach is a robust body painter with short graying hair and a mustache. Surrounded by beautifully arrayed tubes of colored ink, he receives his customers in his Rainbow Tattoo studio in Munich. Little has changed in his shop over the years — except for the customers who walk in the door. He still welcomes rockers from the last century, but now there are also construction workers, housewives, doctors and lawyers. Tattoos have become mainstream, whereas in Laubach's grandfather's day, they were a novel attraction.

Peter Laubach Sr. knew that when he opened a tattoo parlor in Cologne in 1920. It was also for his own use, as he covered his wife from head to toe with tattoos and hit the vaudeville circuit. It worked. Laubach's shows were sold out. People wanted to come and gaze with amazement at this curious rarity. He would tell audiences that his wife, whose stage name was Rosella, had been abducted by Indians in America and that they'd painted her whole body overnight. "It was, of course, a lie, but it was good for business," his grandson says.

An enlarged black-and-white photograph of his grandmother hanging in Laubach's studio is a reminder of the days when tattooing became a family tradition. The corpulent lady in a tight black dress is shown with her head resting on a tattooed arm, and she looks as if she's staring down, checking out her grandson's customers.

Tattoos go mainstream

At the start of Laubach's tattooing career in Munich, his grandmother's glance would have disproportionately fallen on shady types — bull-necked rockers and pimps. Thirty years ago, those were his only customers. At the time, a tattoo was something of a stigma, and a tattooer was commonly thought to be violent, with a criminal record.

So great were the neighborhood prejudices against the kind of customers he had back then that Laubach was kicked out of his first studio. Finding a new place proved tough. "What? A tattoo studio?!" were the words he heard from potential landlords. But that's changed.

Tattoos are now popular all across society, Laubach says. "Twenty-five percent of Germans have tattoos," he says. "Once I had a guy here who looked like a doctor — thin, shy, metal-rimmed glasses. The guy turned out to have tattoos on most of his body."

In the 31 years that he's been in business, Laubach has engraved well over 1,000 tattoos. His work space starts beyond a massive wooden counter. Engineers, bank directors and even pastors have passed through the swinging door reminiscent of a saloon entrance.

Along with the clientele, tattoo subjects have also changed. There are tattoo styles. "The hype with the Japanese characters is over," Laubach says as he smoothly passes his needle in rotating movements across the muscular upper arm of a customer. Right now 3-D tattoos and stars are popular.

Many people have been coming to him for years, sometimes several generations of a family. "I'm now tattooing the kids and grandkids of some of my clients," he says. His oldest regular customer is 86, and this year he had a portrait of his mother tattooed on his chest. In the guest book are famous faces. Soccer players have a particular weakness for tattoos, Laubach says. Miroslav Klose, the German professional who plays for Lazio, had him tattoo the names of his children on his upper thigh.

When Laubach pushes up the sleeves of his black sweatshirt, revealing powerful arms covered with tattoos in glowing colors, it's tough to guess his original skin color. Then again, a tattooer without tattoos would be a little strange, says Laubach — "kind of like an auto mechanic who doesn't drive."

His first tattoo, which he engraved on a lower thigh when he was 11, features a small mushroom. In the 49 years in between, untold numbers of embellishments have been added. He says he's stopped counting. "My whole body is one big tattoo. At some point you just stop noticing." His wife Susi is also covered with tattoos. In fact, their shared passion for tattoos is what brought them together. When they first met, "there she was lying on my table, and she wanted a rose tattoo." Fourteen days later they were married.

The tattoo taboos

In Laubach's studio, a customer can choose from more than 60,000 tattoos, most of them designed by Laubach himself. He will also do tattoos based on sketches customers bring him. But there are some client requests he doesn't accept. "On principle, I don't tattoo faces," he says. National Socialist symbols are also taboo. Adornments to the genital area cost double. Laubach has turned customers away when requests were too bizarre. One man wanted him to tattoo over in black ink a pink spot on his fighting dog's nose, he relates. "I sent him packing. I don't tattoo animals."

But a number of people have been saved from spending money on a plastic surgeon. "Sometimes I tattoo nipples on in cases where after an operation they've become disfigured or have moved," he says. Sometimes he even covers acne scars.

Years ago a customer came into the shop asking for a portrait of his girlfriend to be tattooed on his chest. A few weeks later he was back: He and his girlfriend had broken up. Laubach did his best to change the image. "I tried to turn her face into that of an Indian squaw. The end result may be unique: an Indian bride with a perm."

Laubach is also often asked to refresh tattoos people had done in their youth. "A while ago this man came in and said he wanted to have an old tattoo worked on. It was a sailboat." Laubach couldn't believe his eyes. He recognized his own work immediately. There before him was his very first customer, his former school friend, whose skin he had adorned when he was just 11 years old. That day was the first time they'd seen each other in decades. "The boat was looking the worse for wear. In fact, it looked more like a foldboat," Laubach says grinning.

When Peter Laubach retires, his family's 100-year tattooing tradition will most likely retire with him. He doesn't have a successor. But stopping work is not something the 60-year-old intends to do anytime soon. After all, his grandfather worked until he was 85, painting skin the way a painter paints canvases.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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