19 Aug 2012

A Visit to the Laufbursche Workshop

It's Saturday morning, the 11th august,  and the train is leaving at 7:50, an early rise thus for a much awaited visit to the Laufbursche workshop in Cologne.

Get to know the man who makes great stuff, learn some tips and get some inside info, all after the break.

We had breakfast and left as soon as we were ready, taking the train from Kortrijk to Ghent, then to Liège where a Thalys brought us to Cologne.

From Liège to Cologne
It was around 11:15 when we arrived  there and walked around a bit, it was the first time in Cologne for both of us. Entering the city center we started searching for a bar because we longed for a nice big German beer, which we deserved after such a trip. Plus we still had time, we agreed to meet up in the afternoon. After some pizza we headed back to the trainstation because the metro would bring us from there to the neighbourhood where Mateusz has his workshop.

It was already a bit on the late side and eventually 14:45 until we reached his place. Upon arrival we discovered he doesn't have a doorbell so we rang someone random and reached a photostudio in that building. When we explained we were looking for someone who makes backpacks, the friendly man took the elevator with us and showed us that Mateusz worked downstairs. So we entered and it was exactly like I had seen on photo's in blogs. A clean, sleek and minimal workshop with three to four sewing tables and Mateusz sitting at the last one, working.

I was happy to see three backpacks in his workshop. One Huckepäckchen, and two Huckepacks (medium and large). All filled with foam pads, sleeping quilts and/or paper to give them some shape. They were prettier looking than the pictures on his site.
A friendly greeting ensued (with a firm handshake) and he offered us some freshly brewed coffee. We had some small talk about the trip and why we were a bit on the late side.
Soon enough I was trying on a pack with some weight in the form of water in it and with the advice of Mateusz we concluded that a Large Huckepack would fit me best. It was a whopping difference with my old backpack, my god what whas I thinking buying such a monster pack.

A small Huckepack was not in stock because he only sold 3 of those in his whole career but it was a pity that there wasn't one for Sarah to try on. It has to be said that that was a bit of a letdown, we visited him to get a decent fit and try-on. Especially Sarah looked forward to have a sure feeling about the fit before she bought one, she does not want to make the same mistake as with the Decathlon pack. But Mateusz could only tell us that a Small was the right size for her and apologized (multiple times) that he did not have one for her in his shop.

My overall impression of Mateusz is that he's a really nice guy, friendly and helpful. He was enthusiastic about his products, we talked about American cottages, which he clearly was not fond of and talked about some trips. I was impressed about how little he takes and needs. This man is clearly in the UL zone, for an overnighter he barely needs more than a shoulder bag! And for a full on winter trip he takes around 5kg.
There is clearly lots to learn from this man, and I can start aspiring such weights too.
What I already have learned is that a sleeping bag should be last in your pack. That way it can loft and you can get it out to dry whenever you take a break. A great tip and it shows that traditional backpacking-sense does not hold the truth.

When a pack has Laufbursche on it, it has to be perfect

Furthermore we talked a bit about the Lavvu, it was the tent I was going to buy if it was in the shops before summer and not too expensive. Mateusz told us the materials were a pain to get his hands on, the gluing of cuben was extremely difficult and the production cost is around 500 euro. So I can see why shelters are not for now...
We also had some inside info but that's under embargo so I will shut up about it. What I can tell you is that I was impressed with the shoulder bags he makes. They look very clean and functional for commuters. Plus they are reversible so you get two colors for the price of one. They feature a belt that looks like a seat belt and a tiny waist cord to keep the bag in place whilst biking (again, the genius is in the details).

Mateusz is a hard working man and you definitely feel the passion and craftsmanship he has for his products. He assembles them with the greatest care, has an extensive material knowledge and eye for detail. He wants nothing but the best  (aah German precision!) and it's tale-telling that when he hired some personnel for sewing he still did everything by himself, the staff weren't sewing perfectly and when a pack has "laufbursche" on it, it has to be.
As an architect he now works 7 days a week in the shop to assemble the packs and lower the waiting time. We also got a preview of the 2013 packs but that will remain a secret for now ;)

On a final note he also told me that we should be buying, or at least looking more into European products because also Europe needs some stimulation for it's economy at the moment. I will keep it in mind when thinking about new products because it does hold truth, on US sites you always come across a proud "made in the USA" banner, maybe we should start looking more closely what our continent has to offer. But then again, lots of stuff gets made in China.
The three heavy duty X-PACs and 1 lighter fabric

That was about it, unfortunately we couldn't stay long because we still had to get home for other obligations.
As a goodbye gift I could choose any samples of fabric I wanted, he had everything in stock. I chose some X-PAC VX21 in different colors and the waterproof and light VX03. (for a full rundown of all the fabrics, go here)
The colors do match rather well

We both enjoyed the visit and meeting the man who will make our backpacks. Yes, we both ordered one and be sure I will keep you, posted, dear reader, I'm excited too ;)

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