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Battling Berlin's Bountiful Bees


Beekeeping has become a trendy hobby in Germany, particularly in Berlin, where many aspiring beekeepers are failing to get the proper training. The result is thousands of bees, swarms of them, bumbling around, looking for a place to call home. It's become a big problem for the city. And the Berlin Beekeepers Association has been forced now to send out trained volunteers to deal with them. Robert Graebert is a part of the Berlin Beekeepers Association. And we've reached him at his home outside the city. Welcome.

ROBERT GRAEBERT: Hi. Good to meet you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good to meet you, too. You know, describe these swarms for us. When we're talking about swarms, what are you seeing?

GRAEBERT: So what could happen is that you have a hive. And your bees can decide that, you know, the hive is no longer a place where they can sustain themselves. This could be because of some sickness in the hive. And they'll just swarm out. And, you know, population could be anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 bees.


GRAEBERT: The second thing that happens is, during the season, they will produce a lot of new bees and bring in a lot of honey. And what will then happen is that they will start generating new queen cells. And if you don't pay a lot of attention or you don't check your bees often enough, those might actually develop a second queen. And then at that point, the hive will split. And then you get a swarm as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that sounds pretty dangerous. I mean, 100,000 bees does not sound like a fun thing to have in downtown Berlin. What does the Beekeepers Association do when they hear of a swarm? Do they swarm the swarm?

GRAEBERT: Well, so, you know, typically, it's very simple. You would go up. You would have some kind of container, bucket or something like that. You would try to get them off either by knocking on the branches and just try to capture the queen if possible because once you have the queen, the remaining bees will actually try to come and follow as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we've done the journalistic due diligence here of who and what. And now I'm going to ask you the why. Why has beekeeping become such a fad in Berlin? What are people keeping bees for? What are they trying to do?

GRAEBERT: So I think, you know, one of the things is that - there have been a lot of documentaries sort of talking about how the bees in danger, you know, insects in general. But specifically, bee and - you know, a lot of people have good associations with bees. You know, you get honey. Everybody likes honey. There's been a new - a couple of new products on the market that's sort of give you this idea that beekeeping is super simple. You can do it from your balcony. There's no need to, you know, invest in heavy equipment. This is how I got into it. I saw this crowdfunding campaign for a new way to extract honey from a hive without needing sort of an extraction equipment. And just the tagline is, you know, honey on tap. You know, you just open the tap, and the honey flows out.


GRAEBERT: And so this is, in a way, great because it gets people interested in this hobby. But at the same time, some people are sort of underestimating how much commitment it takes during the season to actually take care of the bees to get to that honey.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What now? I mean, what is the message now to the beekeepers of Berlin?

GRAEBERT: I think, you know, once a swarm is out, there need to be enough people to go out and collect these and sort of bring it back because we get a lot of - from our society - get a lot of benefits because we get all the, you know, food sources. So it's in our interest to go out and mitigate any kind of fallout from actual swarming. But I think you want to go tackle the root of it and say, how can we avoid swarms in the first place? And that's obviously better education, better training on part of the beekeepers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Be nice to bees. That's Robert Graebert with the Berlin Beekeepers Association. Thank you very much.

GRAEBERT: Thank you. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.