Honey and bee related things are far more common in Germany that I experienced in the US. The Freiburg market has several stands from Imkereien selling honey in small and large bottles in dozens of different sorts. Beeswax candles with their distinctive deep yellow color are also common. At Christmas Market time, the markets attract more stalls. The second soggy Saturday in a row I ventured out to the Christmas market and an Imker stall to sample the wares and see what the retail side of an Imkerei looks like.
First a language lesson
- Imkerei – The dictionary translation is “apiary.” It is the place where bee keepers work and where the bees are kept.
- Imker – Beekeeper (or “apiarist” if you like that word). This is the person who works with the bees.
- Biene – Bee.
- Honig – Honey.
- Met – Mead.
- Kerzen – Candle
- Baum – Tree.
I actually went to this stand in particular, because I had seen a small sign way up in the corner advertising “honey beer”. I had never heard of this before and wanted to try it. I had however heard of and tried mead before. Mead is a honey wine and most known as the drink of vikings. They had several types of mead in different colors and there was a label of it for “Viking drink”. I picked up two bottles of beer and a small bottle of the light mead. I have been buying mead at Christmas markets for the entire 4 years I have been here. I keep going back to this stand in Unterlinden, even though I usually just buy my mead and go home. The beer was ok, but I wouldn’t try it again. Mead is quite sweet for a wine and is nice both arm and cold. I tend to chill mine, even in the winter.
Far more than just honey
So the primary known product of bee-culture is honey. Dozens of different types of it stacked in jars fill one side of the stand. Each stack with a different color of honey and a different label. Beyond this are all of the things made with honey. Start with the reasonable jumps of honey candies and honey cookies. Then as seen with the mead and beer, there are liquid preparations. Honey liquor in tiny bottles and several different shades of mead graced the stall. I also saw honey shampoo.
In addition to all of the honey based things, items made from beeswax are here too. Candles in all shapes and sizes as well as things like lip balm. So really if you can make it from a bee it was here.
Chat with the Imkerin
Imkerin is the feminine form of Imker. Once again proving that Germans are not unfriendly, I chatted with the woman running the stall for a while. It started with a simple question of how many bees they have as I was buying my beer and mead. 300+ colonies was the answer I got. Language wise the word is Bienenvolk (Bee-People or Populace), kind of cool. So a whole lot of bees. Then we ended up talking about bee-culture some. Testament to the German desire for primarily local produce, this Imkerei is from a valley in the black forest about an hour north of here. We talked about the difference in the US that in order to get honey direct from the Imkerei you need to go out into the countryside.
Honey is different based on the different vegetation that the bees use to make it. I remember seeing clover honey from being a child for some reason. Each type of jar is labeled as to where the honey is from and what vegetation it is made from. So a jar labeled Ortenauer Edelkastanienhonig (impressive German words in their own right) would be from the town of Ortenau and be made from chestnut trees. To this end it is common to have traveling beekeepers. They put their hives on a truck and go off in search of specific sets of vegetation to make their honey.
I then started asking about what the honey looks like from around here. The black forest is mostly a pine forest. Pine honey is quite dark in color. The colors and transparency varied a lot across the different types. Reading the labels of many of the bottles I recognized a number of valley and areas in Germany as well as in Italy. All of it so different than the ‘honey bear’ that I remember from being a child. I have no clue what kind of honey that was, probably a blend of stuff. There were bottles with almonds and other things mixed in. There was even one labeled “Honey with a Bite”, though I have no clue what is in it.
We talked about how honey is naturally bacteria free and is something to put on wounds. I remember this from reading fantasy adventure books somehow, but never sure if it was true. She showed me a jar of Manuka honey from New Zealand. It is a healing honey from the island and highly respected by tribal medicine men. The higher concentrations get extremely expensive she told me, though the stuff that is imported here is still quite good.
So I still don’t know enormous amounts about honey and Imkereien, but it was neat to see how all of the different plants and trees affect the honey and hear about the wandering bee keepers. Even though I imagine a bee-shepherd with a staff tending his flock.. err swarm. It does make me wonder how you force a group of bees to only go to a specific type of plant in a mixed area. Question for next time, I guess.
Thank you to the woman at the stand at Imkerei Koch. I got no discounts or anything, but she was nice enough to talk to me for a while and answer my questions.