In 2013 Nadine Hillwig (25, Germany), a third-year psychology student, took a life-changing trip to India. To make sure she never forgot it, she got a ‘backpiece’: a tattoo of an elephant covering her entire back.
“My then boyfriend and I had booked a trip to India. Two days before we were due to leave, he sent me a text message saying he wouldn’t be going. It had never been a great relationship. There was always a lot of doubt and we both just hoped it would eventually work out. I decided to go anyway, on my own, and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. I was supposed to go for two weeks but I ended up staying for two months.
I spent the first week in the hectic city life of Mumbai: a completely different world. Everywhere you look there are thousands of people, cars, scooters and restaurants. The journey really started when my friend Leonie joined me after a week. We went to Goa, and because it was May, the rainy season, there were far fewer tourists than there usually are. We mainly hung out with locals, who showed us the most beautiful places.
From Goa we went to Hampi, where I spent two weeks. That is the most beautiful place in the whole world. Everything there is beautiful: the landscape, villages, temples, nature, mountains, people, everything. It’s a quiet area; I had a lot of time to think and to talk about my situation and my future. I decided to move from Frankfurt to Hamburg and go back to school, which I’d dropped out of earlier. That’s where I discovered my talents and decided I wanted to study psychology. This summer I’m going back with my fiancé. He’s curious to see the places that made such an impression on me.
I chose an elephant because I saw many of them in India and because the elephant is the most impressive animal on earth. Not just for its size and strength, but also its intelligence. They’re sensitive, they look peaceful and they have good memories. I can’t see the tattoo, but I know it’s there. That gives me strength. Right now I’m where I wanted to be five years ago: I’m at university, feel good about myself and I’m engaged to a sweet guy who gives me all the space I need to be myself.
I started the backpiece in November 2017 and it was finished last March. I got it done at Playersclub Tattoo Maastricht. I went to a few different tattoo places and had the best feeling about this one; I had a good click with the artist and the people were friendly. Oh, and the shop is right around the corner from my place. The tattoo took seven sessions of three hours each and cost around 1200 euros in total. That was a good price; the artist knew I’m a student. Between sessions I worked at Mercedes to save for the next session.”