Why is beekeeping so difficult

The business with the bees : "Honey beekeeping has absolutely nothing to do with nature conservation"

Hardly anyone noticed the 250,000 new residents who have been living on Alexanderplatz for four years. They not only live in the middle of Berlin with a view of the cathedral, television tower and castle, but also go about their work here day after day. At the busiest and most dangerous place in Germany. But even if there are only a few pitiful trees on the Alex, the five honey bee colonies seem to feel really good on the roof of the Berliner Sparkasse.

“The conditions for bees can be better in the city than in the country,” says Johanna Tränkelbach. The beekeeper looks after the honey bees on Alexanderplatz from the start. Almost every week she goes up on the roof of the bank. From here the pollinators swarm to the zoo, Monbijoupark and the Volkspark Friedrichshain. “The honey from the city hardly differs from that from the country,” says Tränkelbach.

What sounds unusual has long since found many imitators. The Senate estimates the honey bee population in the capital to be around 11,000 colonies. There are more and more on company roofs or fallow land. Vattenfall has beehives, Deutsche Bahn and the exhibition grounds are buzzing too. "In the countryside, bee colonies are increasingly suffering from modern agriculture," says Tränkelbach. Pesticides would threaten living things, but so would monocultures. "When the large field of rapeseed has faded, the bees will no longer find any flowers."

Companies want to benefit from the attention

The honey bee has been in the social spotlight for a few years. Campaigns promote the protection of the yellow-black pollinators, more and more people are trying their hand at beekeeping as a hobby. Fear for the honeybee causes emotions in people. In Bavaria, the referendum “Save the bees”, which actually campaigned for general species protection in the state, was able to collect 1.7 million signatures in record time in February. The Bavarian state parliament passed the bill this week.

Bee friends are also mobilizing in other countries. In Utrecht, the Netherlands, the roofs of bus stations have been greened for honeybees, while other cities are planting bee-friendly wildflowers on their green strips. With so much attention, it is not surprising that the bees are no longer just interesting for animal and nature conservationists, but also for companies.

Dieter Schimanski was someone who recognized the bee market at an early stage. The 54-year-old from Bremen founded the start-up “Bee Rent” four years ago. The concept: Customers who are interested in honey bees receive them nationwide and a beekeeper looks after the colonies all year round. In addition, customers - 95 percent of whom should be companies and firms - receive the honey. His father already kept around 30 honey bee colonies. “Today beekeepers only have two colonies on average,” says Schimanski. In China, on the other hand, there are beekeepers with 30,000 colonies.

And that is where the problem lies. As a German beekeeper, it is difficult to make money when a liter of honey is sold on the market for less than two euros. "Less than one percent in Germany are professional beekeepers," says Schimanski. But honey bees cannot survive without beekeepers because they are killed by a mite without regular treatment. Schimanski's start-up wants to get professional beekeepers back for the bees.

Bees as a business model

Schimanski's clients pay quite a bit for the service: A people at “Bee Rent” costs almost 200 euros per month. A subscription runs for at least two years. “The bees require a lot of care, our beekeepers have to visit the colonies about 15 times a year,” says Schimanski. The customers are satisfied. Many would hire several nations at the same time, almost all of whom would renew their contracts.

His customers include banks, tax consultants, insurance companies, but also DM or Zeppelin. "My impression is that the companies want to distinguish themselves internally for their employees and at the same time are happy about the positive image effect on the outside," says Schimanski.

At first he did not believe in commercial success himself, admits the founder. But the hype about the endangered bee helped him. He doesn't have a guilty conscience because of that. “If you have a burst water pipe, the plumber benefits.” Schimanski’s burst water pipe is supposed to be the death of bees. He now has three permanent employees, a dozen mini-jobbers and 23 franchise companies. The start-up is growing by 50 to 100 percent annually, he says.

The Berliner Sparkasse also pays for the services of beekeeper Johanna Tränkelbach, but the bank does not want to hear about greenwashing in this context. The bank distributes the 100 to 200 liters of honey that the bees produce annually in small jars as gifts to visitors, guests and employees. "That goes down really well," says a spokesman. This is not a marketing act, rather a small contribution to the environment. “We see ourselves as pioneers. Four years ago nobody talked about bees. "

Are there too many bees in Berlin?

In fact, the honey bee population in Berlin has increased rapidly in recent years. If one reckons with 50,000 bees per colony, the number of honey bees has tripled to around half a billion animals in the last ten years alone. Among them around 4500 migrant colonies that beekeepers bring to Berlin in the summer. The spokeswoman for the German Beekeeping Association, Petra Friedrich, recently warned: “The density of bees in Berlin is far too high.” Are bees dying? The honey bee is fine.

Unlike their fellows. At the beginning of June there were dead bumblebees under many linden trees in the city. The reason: They starved to death because only a few plants were blooming at this time of year. Not only the bumblebees concentrated on the linden trees, but also numerous other insects and the many bee colonies. Far too much competition for far too little nectar for the bumblebee, which is also one of around 600 species of bees.

Christoph Saure has long warned against focusing too much on honeybees. He has been working with insects for decades as an appraiser for environmental authorities in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt. “Honey bee keeping has absolutely nothing to do with nature conservation,” he says. Saure fears that beekeeping will imbalance the fragile ecosystem of insects. "The competition is too great," says Saure, who is primarily concerned about the wild bees.

There are over 300 species in Berlin, three quarters are now on the red list. He sees the honeybee hype in two ways. On the one hand, the attention also helps other insects, on the other hand, many unsuspecting hobby beekeepers increase the risk of disease. And the many companies that would take advantage of the situation bothers him. Above all, Saure does not believe in bee-friendly seed mixtures and insect hotels, which are becoming more and more popular: "You can throw what is available at discount stores right into the bin."

For beekeeper Johanna Tränkelbach, on the other hand, the positive aspects of the bee boom predominate. “The bee as a celebrity insect also has positive effects on other insects.” She observes how awareness of nature increases among her neighbors and customers. It is considered which plants should be planted in the front yard and the bee-friendly seeds from the hardware store are supported. Tränkelbach hardly minds that the manufacturers earn money with it. "Instead of accusing them of commercialism, one should be happy that something is happening in terms of nature conservation."

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