In Berlin, sticky and sweet is a recipe for success. Across the German capital - from Kreuzberg to Mitte - urban beekeeping is thriving. Honey products from the city are in demand, despite the economic crisis.
Wandering around the city of Berlin, one doesn't get the impression that it would be an ideal spot for harvesting bees and their honey. Yet, with more than 500 beekeepers in the German capital, there's never a swarm too far away these days. But, beekeeping in Berlin is hardly new. In fact, it has a long history.
The practise of apiculture - as it is scientifically known - has traditionally increased in Berlin during times of economic hardship. For the past 23 years, Evelyn Jesse has watched the industry wax and wane. She started one of the city's first beekeeping supply shops in 1990, following Germany's reunification.
“It's a seasonal business, normally we are busy from May to August and then the work drops off", Jesse told DW. "But in the last two years the off-season is getting busier. My daughter and I, we have a lot to do, while in the past it was okay for me to work alone.”
Jesse attributes the recent increase in business to the growing popularity of beekeeping around the world. “It is hip I think. In the last two years, we have seen some beekeepers putting their bee families on the roofs. I think there were TV reports from New York and other cities, and it was crazy to see bees on the roof in Manhattan. This was the reason for some people to say: 'we can do the same in Berlin!'"
Beekeeping in the park
The buzz around beekeeping has been of particular benefit to Heinz Risse. An apiarist himself, he recently started offering beekeeping courses in the Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin. Here, in an urban garden next to a busy traffic intersection in the the Kreuzberg district, Risse now teaches people how to care for bees and harvest their honey.
He learned the skills from his father at the early age of nine. Now, forty years later, Risse manages seven hives in the Prinzessinnengarten and two on his balcony at home. He says it's easy to become a hobby beekeeper. “There's not much work to do. You need some tools, a hive, a veil and then you can start working with the bees.”
And compared to other businesses, financial investment is relatively low, Risse explains. “A hive costs around 100 euros ($131), a veil around 50 ($65). A hive tool comes at around 12 euros ($17) so that's not much. For harvest or to fight some diseases you may need to buy medicine for the bees. Around 400 euros ($522) will do for the first year.”
Local brands filling the gap
In a factory close to Alexanderplatz in Berlin's central Mitte district, Annette Mueller is busy putting honey into jars. She says that the Berlin bee business fills a hole in the market: “After I moved here I was looking for honey from Berlin and I couldn't find any. We are swamped by imported honey - 80 percent of the honey in Germany is imported. Not many supermarkets carry local honey.”
It was for this very reason that she and her partner Jens-Michael Lehmann started their company Berliner Honig, which translates to mean “Berlin Honey”, in 2010. Conditions here, she says, are more than favourable: “In Berlin we have a tremendous amount of trees. There are over 400,000, and 80,000 of those are Linden trees. And flower-wise, in the city we have more diversity than in the countryside.”
Each jar of Berliner Honig is stamped with the date, labelled with the beekeeper's name, the trees the bees pollinated, and the location of the hive. With over 30 hobby and professional beekeepers supplying them with honey, they offer a variety of unique honey types from across the city - from Chris & Jela's fruit tree honey to Barbara's spring black locust tree honey. Mueller says that's part of the success.
Berliner Honig retails between 5.99 and 7.99 euros ($7.82 and $10.43). That's well above the cost of other honeys. Despite this, Mueller says their business is doing very well. And that's likely to continue that way, as long as the number of hobby beekeepers in Berlin continues to grow.