I visited the German bee museum in Weimar last week. It was founded in 1910 by Ferdinand Gerstung. Gerstung was a big deal in the early twentieth century beekeeping world and introduced the concept of “the bien”. The “Bien” considered the whole hive-super-organism instead of focusing on the individual bees.
While bees are totally amazing and I can talk for hours about them, I want to focus on the lessons I learned from the buildings people built for them. Not the ones the bees build (they are rad) but the ones humans made to get to their honey and wax.
The museum had a large assortment of different bee-buildings (hives) and considerable changes have taken places since then. Here are the lessons I learned from beehives:
1) Beauty comes from uniqueness
Beehives are mostly made of wood. Wood is beautiful. So beehives look quite beautiful. The American Lorenzo Langstroth is widely credited with discovering the “bee-space” (it had been discovered in Europe before). He did play a huge role in economising beekeeping with movable frame (also invented by someone else), stack-able hives, which are still used today in most of the world. But in other parts of the planet people built all kinds of hives from straw and hollowed out trees, decorated them and even made them into statues. Beauty can’t be mass-produced. Beauty is handmade. Beauty comes from Uniqueness.
2) Care is quality
In the industry of modern pollination services all hives look the same. The bees probably don’t care (we don’t know) but people using the landscape care. In the heyday of modern beekeeping everybody made their own hives. The beekeeper was also a carpenter, in most cases they were preachers as well. Their hives look amazing. They are artworks and richly decorated. Some of them might not be that practical or well adapted but they looked cared for. And care is what matters. Care is quality.
3) Bring colour into your life
If there are many hives next to each other there is a large percentage of “drift” from one hive to the other. Bees fly out of hive number one but return to hive number two, because they couldn’t quite remember the right entrance. To make it easier for the bees to help them find the right entrance, they used different colours for different entrances, so bee from the white door can return to the white door. (They don’t have a colour receptor for red though, so they can’t see red and the red door is a bit pointless)
Although we can make hives plain and boring, we can also make them colourful and interesting. We can make our lives plain and boring or colourful and fun. Bring some colour into your life! (red is good, it doesn’t attract bees 😉
4) You can find good nectar in other people’s garden
This is written on this beehive and I thought it was quite profound.
Before you judge someone, think about how their opinion came to be and how they could be right. Think about their perspective. Assume you are wrong. Maybe you can find some good mental nectar in their garden to make your mind-honey even more delicious!
5) If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable
And finally, when people made beehives into statues they cared a lot about what they neighbours thought (still do) and therefore used contemporary themes to fashion their hives. The most difficult decision was to decide where to put the hole the bees crawl into.
This statue is a beehive, the woman lifts her skirt to reveal the entrance to the beehive. Not entirely practical, but 19th century “hilarious”. Because even in serious circles such as beekeeping (imagine a club of 50-60y old catholic priests) there needed to be room for humour. Because if it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.