Imker – Maker Of Things From Bees

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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.

Drinkable honey

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.


24 thoughts on “Imker – Maker Of Things From Bees

  1. Hey there,

    I am very interested to come to good Manuka honey.
    Is it possible to buy directly from you.

    I hope to hear from you soon.

    Sorry for my bad English

    Kinds regards,
    Alberdina van der Wolf

    • I don’t have any connections to buy any of this. You need to hunt an actual Imker. I just spoke to this one on the market square.

  2. Chestnut honey! Pine honey! Honey mead and beer and wine! I would be in honey heaven here, and also would want to embrace it all and take the entire display home with me (but for those pesky extra baggage fees…). You would think that in the small southern Utah USA town where I live that there would be beekeepers but this is not the case. Northern California would be a more likely place to look. Oh well, I can always dream!

      • I did a little research on this – even in the dry desert of southwest Utah, beekeepers do make clover honey, allowing clover near alfalfa fields to attract the bees. Northern Utah is more conducive an area for beekeeping, I expect – more vegetation and moisture in the higher elevations.

  3. Wow! That’s a lot of honey. I like the more natural honey in Germany and always buy some at foreign food markets in the US for tea, etc. I went to our first Christmas market here in Germany this year and we wandered by a stand with the bee’s candles 🙂 My sister and I used to buy some for my mom every year for Christmas when we were kids – I don’t think she really used them much. I also don’t think we were good gift givers – for a few years in a row my dad got a bottle of Baileys. Since he pretended he liked it, he kept getting it. It was only years later that we found out he never actually liked it 🙂

    • A dad humoring his daughters then? At least a bottle of Bailey’s is somewhat better than the tie that is traditional unloved gift in the US.

      I really don’t do much honey. I like it mixed with peanut butter or even just normal butter, but on it’s own I am not a big fan. If I want a sweet syrup, I will tend to go for maple, even if it is way more expensive.

      • Really? I love honey? Especially the non-clear version – know which ones I am talking about? Perfect for yogurts and tea. I’m only now slowly starting to get used to maple syrup 🙂

        • Im sure there are several but clover is the nonclear spreadable that I remember. Maple is such a great taste. A shame most of it in US stores is artificial.

  4. My childhood memories include beeswax candles on our Christmas tree. It smelled so good and I would love to visit a German Christmas market to get those beeswax candles. Thanks for sharing the Imker story and your experience with honey beer, Andrew.

  5. I had no idea about the honey beer or wine. However, I think I would love the mead wine as I tend to love sweet wines. I actually like to put honey on my toast so I do have quite a taste for it!

    I don’t care much for the candles but makes a lot of sense. I had no idea there was such a variety of honey!

    • Mead is very nice and is quite sweet. I have heard it is pretty good warm too, but not tried it that way. I would avoid the beer, it wasn’t great. I mix honey with peanutbutter on toast and love that. Ali likes candles, maybe we can try a beeswax one at some point.

  6. Oh, I’m jealous! One of my favorite discoveries in Germany was that you can buy 100% beeswax candles at Mueller for really cheap. They make your home smell like honey when they burn, and they also clean the air. I shipped a bunch to myself when we were leaving, but our stash is dwindling and I have yet to find them in England. But there are some strong beekeeping groups here, so that is a very good sign!

    • England isn’t so far. And aren’t you guys coming to Berlin through the holidays? If you ever need me to ship some up to you, we can certainly look to see if there are any restrictions on that kind of thing.
      I don’t really like candles, but the idea of smelling like honey is intriguing.

      • I may just take you up on the offer to ship some candles, especially if there is something here I can send you! I am pretty sure it’s fine to ship them. My mom-in-law just sent me some from the States, and they were unbelievably pricey. Let me know if there’s something you want from the UK– picalilly? 🙂

    • We have a friend in Alaska that does bees. It seems like a lot of work though. I think I’ll stick to my market stands, but definitely let me know if you guys get a hive. I am curious on how it goes.

  7. I saw an exhibit/stand for all products honey in the Römerberg Weihnachtsmarkt in Frankfurt am Main last year : honey wine, honey candy, “plain” honey, flavoured honey, pretty beeswax candles – all so good. Me, I wanted to wrap my arms around all of it, and bring it back with me to Chile, if it weren’t for the strict regulations against importing honey products into Chile …

    Thanks for your excellent post, Andrew, and for helping me to relive memories of yet another visit to a Weihnachtsmarkt!

    • Interesting that they have strict restrictions on honey. Any clue why? Seems safer than most natural products, like fruit and such.

      You are welcome. I enjoyed looking at the stand in more detail too.

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