Der Laden Kurz und Weit mit Sitzgelegenheiten und an der rechten Wand befinden sich Regale mit Brillenmodellen.
Cologne optician's workshop "Kurz & Weit" turns the glasses of people's dreams into - hand-crafted - reality. Photo: Kurz & Weit

Glasses for a lifetime – from Cologne

At Kurz & Weit in the Belgian Quarter, glasses are made by hand. Author Martin Becker went to the shop, to get perfect pair that last a liftime.

The names might come from well-known, hip areas of Cologne but the Rheinauhafen, Rathenauplatz, and Aachener Weiher we’re talking about here are actually glasses, hand-crafted by Kurz & Weit. And not any old glasses – owner Jens Heinzerling’s aim is to make spectacles that people keep for a lifetime. Our author went along to see with his own eyes.

The eyewear creations on display at Kurz & Weit are unique designs, named after squares, districts or legendary clubs in Cologne. The small optician’s shop on Antwerpener Straße is pretty unique too. I enter it on a quest – to find the pair of glasses that will change my life.

Glasses from Kurz & Weit – each pair a one-off

At the workshop Jens and his wife Ina opened in 2010, the master optician produces bespoke spectacles for his customers. The couple have a vision: to sell eyewear that’s as unique as the wearer. Jens had spent years selling ready-made glasses – day in, day out – when he worked for a large chain of low-cost opticians. At Kurz & Weit, his aim is to create originals. Using unconventional materials and unconventional colours. Made completely by hand and always a one-off.

But it takes a while before my perfect pair of hand-made, customised spectacles is finished because finding out what suits me, or rather my face, is a complex matter. As is the choice of material. And sourcing the materials isn’t easy either. When Jens first opened his shop, he wasn’t at all sure where he would get the acetate blocks or the hinges. But he found what he was looking for in France – a supplier whom he was able to persuade to support his project and who was able to provide residual stock to the workshop studio that was being born in the Belgian Quarter. “We had tons of material we could cut up, break into pieces and try things out with,” Jens says today. The outcome at the end of the experimentation phase is something he’ll never forget: the first Kurz & Weit brand frame. Cut, sanded and polished by hand. Even now, he beams when he tells me, “Our first two frames are still being worn today.”

Eine runde Brille mit grünem Rahmen.
At Kurz & Weit, each pair of glasses is a one-off – and comes with a Cologne-inspired name included. Photo: Kurz & Weit

Unique eyewear, created “on the customer’s face”

Before I can actually wear my Kurz & Weit glasses, there’s a painstakingly thorough consultation process. It’s not just “frame on, frame off, next one”. We gradually work our way towards the perfect pair. We talk. About shapes and colours. About my lifestyle and what I’m looking for. “We don’t simply design a pair of glasses on paper. Our products care created on the customer’s face,” Jens explains. I become part of the process. While we’re chatting, Jens reaches for a specific frame, an older model, and says, “Try this one. It might be the right sort of thing.” We make (slow) progress. The idea is to see how my face looks different with a completely different pair of glasses and whether it’s possible to emphasise charming features instead of covering them up. Jens points out though, “We’re not out to make people look like something they aren’t. We want everyone to feel good in the glasses they’re wearing.”

That special spark

After a few attempts, I get that magic moment that Jens describes as “feeling a special spark”. Suddenly, there’s a pair that simply suits me. Pretty well, in fact. Jens brings in André Jansen, who’s worked for him for several years, and they both agree: this shape is fabulous. After that, it doesn’t take long for us to agree on a colour for the frame. There’s a small piece of acetate left over from a block that has mostly been used to make side pieces. It’s a fine grey colour with a subtle marble effect. I leave the shop that afternoon with the exciting feeling of having taken part in a timeless ritual, somewhere between art and craft. This must be how people have felt for centuries when they go to a tailor for a made-to-measure suit.

  • Before: The author wearing his old glasses. Photo: Martin Becker
  • And after: wearing his bespoke spectacles from Kurz & Weit. Photo: Martin Becker

Customers love this attention to detail, which takes more time than a low-cost optician can afford. Today, customised Kurz & Weit eyewear is worn in Namibia, South Africa, Chile, Australia, Mexico and the US. Sometimes people come across the shop by chance when they’re out shopping in Cologne. Sometimes they come especially. Either way, what’s certain is it won’t be the last time.

Precision, hand-made in Cologne

It wasn’t my last time either. When my own individual frame is ready, André shows me it and then works out how long the side pieces need to be. I even get to watch over his shoulder while he mills them to the right length and skilfully screws them to the frame. The lenses, from a specially selected factory in Bamberg, provide the finishing touch to my “glasses for a lifetime”. Before I leave, André takes some photos of me and the glasses and checks the lenses are centred properly before they’re mounted in the workshop – by hand, of course. And then I have the perfect pair of glasses – made in Cologne. I shall name them after my favourite street: Deutzer Freiheit.

Kurz und Weit Brillenmanufaktur
Antwerpener Straße 13
50672 Cologne

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