A Medieval Castle and a charming historic center crammed with half-timbered shops and houses – this is what we expected to see in Nürnberg / Nuremberg.
What we didn’t expect was the biggest, most unusual beehive we’ve ever seen; a live, biology-in-action colony of German honeybees.
After our short walk over the moat bridge, we turned onto a narrow cobblestone street at the base of the city wall. The ancient wall looks its age, and its dark, stained color was evidence that the years hadn’t been kind. Near one of the towers, a few meters above the street, a buff-colored, soccer ball-size wart protruded from the weathered wall.
As we got closer, we could see that this beige wart was covered with a seething, buzzing mass of bees.
In our experience, bees live in holes in trees and in man-made wooden boxes, not on 700 year-old walls. Other than a few stings and lots of honey on buttered biscuits, we don’t have much experience with bees or beehives. But to our untrained eyes, the bees seemed quite content. They were going about their business; totally exposed to the elements with their beeswax welding their hive to the ancient wall.
We snapped a few photos, and vowed to answer our questions with a bit of Googling back at the hotel. And then we thought of our blogging buddy Martha at Therapeutic Misadventures, who in addition to being a talented writer, is also a beekeeper. What are the chances?
Forget Google, we fired off an email to Martha, at home with her bees in New Hampshire, and she responded:
“It would appear that the bees swarmed, meaning they probably left a hive that was overcrowded. This comb they have built is beautiful! And the queen is most likely deep in the middle of the comb.
The shape of the comb is exactly what they do when left to their own devices. In a “normal” hive, they build out comb according to the shape of the frames we give them – square flat surfaces. In a Top Bar hive they are given a bar at the top of the frame but build free-style down from the bar and the comb is disk-shaped like your photo. Bees are amazingly astute in their perfect proportions. The 8-sided cells are perfectly proportioned and a mathematical puzzle that people have studied for centuries. How do they know? What drives their perfection?”
“Interestingly, if there is a disease or if they run into pesticides, the comb will be all crazy and lop-sided. You can see how the chemicals mess up their sense of proportions. I had a sick hive this summer and the comb was all lumpy and uneven. The bees all mysteriously died. I think they got into something that not only made them “drunk” but also killed them.”
Absolutely fascinating stuff. We agree with Martha – the comb was beautiful. Perfectly shaped discs, gradually decreasing in size toward the outside make it an elegant, efficient design. These mysterious and busy bees were programmed by millions of years of evolution, and their successful community home is proof that it works well.
Please visit Martha’s blog to learn more about the fascinating art and science of beekeeping.
James & Terri
1. Linsepatron via Wikimedia Commons
7. Gavin Mackintosh via Wikimedia Commons
9. Thomas Kohler via Wikimedia Commons