As It Happens

German shoemaker has enormous shoes to fill

Three of the world's tallest men were in Germany this week to meet a man about a comfortable shoe. And this man is none other than legendary shoemaker, Georg Wessels.
German shoemaker Georg Wessels (centre) poses with three of the world's tallest men, including Sultan Kosen, second right, who currently holds the Guinness World Record for tallest living male, at 2.51 metres. The group was in Vreden, Germany this week to pick up some very large shoes from Wessels. (Friso Gentsch/AP)

Being tall can be a blessing and a curse. And when it comes to shoes, it is almost always the latter. Especially if you're the tallest man in the world.

Sultan Kosen, from Turkey, is the current Guinness World Record holder for tallest living male. He hits a towering height of eight feet three inches (2.51 metres). And this week, he was in the town of Vreden, Germany, to see a man about a pair of very large shoes.

That man is Georg Wessels, the world's premiere shoemaker for the world's tallest men and women. Wessels told As It Happens host Carol Off that over the years, he has made 25 different pairs of shoes for Kosen.

"Sultan Kosen is a friend of mine for more than seven years, when he was found for the Guinness Book of World Records. I've seen all the tallest men in the world, but he is really the tallest."

Shoemaker Georg Wessels (right) and Sultan Kosen from Turkey, the Guinness World Record holder for tallest living male at 2.51 metres, pose in front of Wessels' shoe shop in Vreden, Germany, in 2012, after Kosen got his new shoes. (AFP/Getty Images)

Wessels doesn't only cater to men. He recalls making a pair of shoes for Sandy Allen, who held the Guinness record for tallest female before she died in 2008. 

Wessels says he sees emotional reactions from so many of his customers. Abdramane Dembele, the third tallest man in the world at seven feet seven inches (2.32 metres), joined Kosen on this week's trip to Vreden with the singular goal of meeting Wessels. While Kosen is one of Wessels' regulars, it was Dembele's first time at Wessels' shop.

"[Dembele] was crying. [He was] really happy. You can't believe it. It's one of the most important things for people to have good shoes. Especially for giants, it's very, very important."

Wessels says the vast majority of the world's tallest men and women have medical problems. Many have gigantism, a medical condition that causes excessive growth. Many of his customers have other health problems, including diabetes.  Wessels says it causes their feet to become very sensitive to pressure.

"This means you must make really soft shoes. That's something special, to make strong shoes, very softly."

Shoemaker Georg Wessels (left) chats with Yao Defen, believed to be the tallest woman in Asia at 2.36 m (7ft 8in), as he donates three pairs of much needed new shoes as a gift, at her home in China's eastern province of Anhui in 2006. (Nir Elias/REUTERS)

Wessels says he is the eighth generation to carry on the family business of shoemaking, which began in 1745. Wessels decided to cater to tall customers after meeting the tallest Dutch man in history, years ago.

"When I was a young boy more than 60 years ago, [my father and I] met the 'Giant of Amsterdam," Albert [Johan] Kramer. I think this was the experience for me to say, I only want to make shoes for the tallest people in the world."

So, how tall is Georg Wessels?

"I am 1 metre, 80 centimetres [or 5 feet, 10 inches]. I'm a small one."

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