"Keeping bees is not only for retired people anymore." Marc-Wilhelm Kohfink
"Every colony really has an individual identity." Marc-Wilhelm Kohfink
Whoever thinks bees are annoying, stinging insects is wrong. Without us noticing it, many hardworking bees fly through the streets and parks of Berlin everyday on their mission to find pollen for their bee queen. Special boxes where these colonies build their hives in are spread around the city. Many of these boxes belong to Dr. Marc-Wilhelm Kohfink. “Bees are actually a lot like humans.”
Before the Wall came down Marc-Wilhelm worked as a journalist in West Germany’s former capital Bonn. When he moved to Berlin after 1989 with his wife and son, he was determined to obtain a house with a garden. Just like his grandfather and great-grandfather, Marc-Wilhelm wanted to keep bees. They settled in Berlin-Köpenick, in the south east of the city. What first started as a hobby slowly turned into a serious profession. In 1999 his beekeeping company ‘Imkerei am Pflanzengarten’ was born and in 2004 he started to make a living out of it.
Many people are surprised to hear that bees live very well in the city. In Berlin alone, about 850 beekeepers are registered at the ‘Imkerverband Berlin’ of which Marc-Wilhelm is the chairman. “On average keepers have about three bee colonies – that means most people keep them as a hobby. A few, like myself, keep over a hundred colonies.”
In recent years keeping bees has become more popular: “The image of bee keeping has changed, keeping bees is not only for retired people anymore for example. People in Berlin are becoming more conscious of nature, health and sustainability. And you don’t need a big garden to keep bees – if the neighbours are okay with it, you can even keep them on your balcony,” Marc-Wilhelm explains.
Marc-Wilhelm took his time to build his own business. “I always advice people who want to keep bees to slowly set it up. I, for example, started out with about twelve bee colonies – now I have 120.” Over the years you gain the experience you need to keep bees Marc-Wilhelm explains: “Bees are very social animals, that’s why you need to develop a certain feeling for it. When a colony is not in harmony for example, it could happen they all fly out without returning to the beehive.”
Honeybees are social insects, which means they live together in large, well-organized family groups. A colony typically consists of three kinds of adult bees: workers, drones and a queen. They all have their own task: “Drones are the only male bees in the colony and their purpose in life is procreation. Then there is one queen bee. She is the only sexually developed female and therefore responsible for the reproduction. Several thousands of worker bees do all the rest: they work together in nest building, food collection and raising other bees from egg stage.”
A queen can easily be distinguished from other members of the colony. She is bigger than the workers for example. Marc-Wilhelm adds: “The queen can live several years, whereas the workers can die after a couple of months already. But, he says, “when the worker bees are not satisfied with their queen anymore, they’ll kill her.“ He laughs, “it’s quite democratic.”
According to Marc-Wilhelm bees are very important to nature, as they are responsible of most pollination of flowers. “Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part of the flower. Without bees, there would be fewer plants. Therefore they really stand at the core of the creation of nature.”
Marc-Wilhelm’s bees produce about twelve types of honey, which vary for instance between raspberry honey, maple tree honey and Chesnutt honey. The taste depends on the place where the bees are located. One colony is actually placed in the middle of the city. “I’ve called the honey ‘SO36’, because I’ve placed the beehive in the South-East part of the district Kreuzberg. The hive is located close to Görlitzer Park, on an former industrial parcel. You could say they’re real ‘Berliner bees’.”
Getting stung by his bees is unfortunately part of the job. But Marc-Wilhelm has been stung so many times that he doesn’t feel it anymore. “I got used to it,” he says casually.” Does he have a favourite colony of his own? He laughs. “You can’t really put it like that. But there are colonies that are easier to work with than others. Every colony really has an individual identity. Some are lazier than others for example, and some are more aggressive.”
He contemplates for a moment about his favourite colony, but then comes up with a nice image: “I have eight colonies placed on top of a roof of a hotel close to Potsdamer Platz. Every time I go there, I get to see my bees and the wonderful view over the city. It’s my favourite place in Berlin.”