Beekeepers: granpa and grandson

Granpa Heinz: beekeeper for passion since ever

Today Gäblini’s blog has a guest: a very special beekeeper! I want to speak to you about granpa Heinz! Imagine the scene: me telling shily to Basti that I would like much to interview Granpa Heinz. He accepting with enthusiasm my idea. ‘But when?’ ‘Now!’ ‘But now now?? and if we bother?’ ‘but why not? It’s Sunday and it’s still early for lunch…let’s go!‘.

I grab my laptop and we reach them in their cozy living room. Background music from the 60s as usual, both at the couch. Granpa is relaxing, granny is reading the newspaper. I had already prepared some questions in German some days before. Basti explains them our project and that we would like to make a kind of interview to be published on this ‘online newspaper’ that we would have started soon. They were very curious from this all and they answered to all my questions with much kindness and enthusiasm.

When has Granpa Heinz started this beekeeping path?

When has he begun this wonderful path? Granpa Heinz, born in 1939, struggles a bit to answer. He ponders quite long, it seems pretty long ago. He started with his dad when he was little.

Our beekeeper
Granpa Heinz in his apiary

Even his uncle – brother of his dad – was a beekeeper. And not only: a cousin of him as well had learnt to be a beekeeper from his dad. So, it’s a widespread passion among the Gäblers! He does not remember from where this all had started. He knows only that his dad had begun and his uncle too discovered this passion by helping him and so they continued.

They had started before the II World War. During the war they did not have so many beehives, hence, his mom’s dad could temporarily take care of them over that period.

So, granpa Heinz started when he was little, when helping his dad. When he turned into 18, he started in a more autonomous way. At this point we are in the 60s. His dad and him had built our Bienenhaus (a first part) and in 1969 they completed it. At this time, he did not have the beehives that we have been using today. He used the Bienenhaus and his dad’s self-made beehives.

Speaking of the Bienenhaus, Granny Eva (born in 1942) enters on her tiptoe. She likes much the tiny room connected to it. She always found it very relaxing, a kind of little hobby room. A window on the beehives where enjoying from time to time a snack. Some of their guests even slept there because it was so relaxing and everybody, really everybody, wanted to see their bees.

At this point I had a question: how is to be a beekeeper’s wife?

Their whole life together (last year they have celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary!) and both with much love for nature: one for the bees and the other one for flowers. She admits that well,…it has been complicated! She is allergic to the bees sting unfortunately, so she is very fearful. Once she got stung and the arm got super swollen. From that moment on, she did not get closer so much to the bees any longer (it is also true that they weren’t used to have the same clothing protections as nowadays).

Granpa Heinz, hence, was often there with the bees, while she could not. She is very very sorry for this. She confides to us that she likes so much the fact that Basti and I can work at this together.

Ok, I want to add just a little thing: I have never been stung SO FAR, I really hope I am not allergic. In any case, they told me that rhubarb and onion juice are perfect against bee stings! When you get stung, it’s important to take a small knife (or as an alternative a long nail is enough too) to take out the stinger, without pressing it otherwise you inject even more poison. Even if you take it out promptly, of course, a bit of the poison is anyway in. Nevertheless, they grant me that a bit of juice made with rhuburb and onion helps much against the pain.

Closed this chapter, you must know that granny Eva has an endless love towards all flowers. In the past she was out taking care of them mainly when bees were in the hives in the evening, just to be sure. In any case, today as well, despite the age aches & pains, she takes care of them and she decorates the house with wonderfully colourful flower decorations according to the season. I am wondering if her passion for the flowers and being wife of a beekeeper was pure coincidence and she answers that yes, it was her passion since ever. After finding her soulmate in a beekeeper she has only learnt to opt for bee-friendly flowers!

Any anecdote?

Granny Eva will never forget: they used to live in the house where the four of us are living now too. Granpa Heinz parents were visiting them, together with his little sister. Once arrived, while they were strolling to the entrance, there was a swarming. The swarm was attracted by the hair of granpa’s little sister. They covered her head with a wet cloth. Me listening and taking notes with wide open eyes, especially when they tell ‘she had so much and such a dark hair, right like you!’. Then they tried to calm me down by adding that a swarm does not sting. She was fine, despite the fright.

Another thing that granpa Heinz remembers with a smile: one day he caught a beequeen from a swarm and all the bees were around his arm. More and more. Me, again with wide open eyes. Basti instead was a bit disappointed. He was not born yet at that time, otherwise he would have liked much to take a picture of this. A question comes spontaneously to me: did he get scared from this? He replies calmly that no, actually he was mainly amused. Then he had put the beequeen in a box and all the bees followed her.

They grew up among the bees, neither children were fearful of them.

Speaking of children: great-granpa had prepared some Learning beekeeping path for some schools, he had some hives in glass for this purpose. It was something absolutely unusual at that time. Some moms asked to granpa Heinz too for the same but he prefered to avoid, too much responsibility in case of children stings (when I heard about Learning beekeeping path, there I got beady eyes…maybe one day….).

Another episode that granpa Heinz remembers laughing: his uncle and his dad were at the Bienenhaus, there was also another person from the beekeepers local association. He was a bit full of himself, because he was in a good position in the association. At a certain point many bees started to chase him, they were all around his head (again my wide open eyes). He began to move like a fool to get rid of them. After not that long, he had to throw himself on the ground and cover his head with the vegetable garden compost. Do you know why? He had so much perfume on, that’s why! So avoid this in case you’ve planned to get closer to bees! 😉

How was producing honey at GDR times?

tins for Honey for beekeepers at GDR times
The ‘milk’ tin where they used to keep the honey in GDR times

Granpa Heinz was a metalworker and used to take care of his bees in his free time. Basti’s great-granpa had more than 30 hives, but granpa Heinz had around ten. In any case, thanks to the bees and their honey they managed to buy things that at that time were not to be taken too much for granted, such as the first TV, a very comfy matress,…

Environment was less polluted and hives were always full of honey. The ecosystem now feels the effects of the exaggerated use of the pesticides in the fields. This has spoilt a bit of everything and drained biodiversity. When they used to harvest honey, they used to have more honeydew and different honey varieties.

At the German Democratic replublic times (Deutsch Demokratic Republik between 1950 and 1987) they didn’t use to sell honey in honeypots like today, but they used to put it in big tins to be given to the government. In exchange they received money and governement used to provide it to the buyers.

Any bad memories?

We ask if he has any bad memory related to his beekeeper experience and he tells us that at least twice he lost everything after a winter. In that period he had only 5 hives and so weak to don’t survive the winter. Unfortunately it can happen. He refers this sad loss to the pesticide used in the fields, very harmful for the pollinators. This is still a general existing problem.

Nevertheless, he was not able to tell us any other negative memory related to the bees. Despite the tiredness from time to time (more than understandable considering the age), he is always super active and hard-working. As soon as spring starts, we lose him officially! if you look for him, he is there in his apiary, among his bees. Always very busy. In winter they keep being his continuous thought and in summer they make his days full.

What does he love the most about being beekeeper? How does he feel?

Granpa Heinz adores honey and bees because they are good for the environment and without them we would be in trouble.

For him it’s very interesting to see them growing, to understand how they are organised. He likes it very much: when he is in his apiary, he feels free, curious, calm and he has much fun (even if sometimes we can hear his ‘Scheiße!’ (= ‘shit‘, in German).

Does he like honey?

He can’t help answering ‘Ja!’

But does he prefer honey or chocolate?

(He adores chocolate, he would eat only it the whole day…)

He answers that honey is better (granny Eva can’t believe this).

He tells us that the chocolate is ‘easier’, a kind of fast-snack-on-demand, but he likes more honey, then if there’s no honey he opts for chocolate for sure 🙂

Granny Eva prefers honey, but she does not dislike chocolate, especially the darker one. She generally eats honey at breakfast on a slice of bread. It’s something that belongs to her routine. She likes much also the fact that she can use it for many purposes. This reminds her of the great-granpa that used the honey for healing a still open war wound. Thanks to its antibacterial properties, it helped to heal the wound that he had been struggling fos so long to improve. At this point they remember when granpa Heinz was young and he hurt himself at the calf while going by motorbike. It was an excoriation due to hot air. It was taking long to heal it, his dad suggested him to put on some honey and it helped much.

What does he think of Basti? Is he proud of him?

(Here Basti was a bit worried for the reply 🙂 )

Granpa Heinz answers without hesitation (and I had no doubt). He is very proud of his grandson. He sweetly adds that he is good, he learns quickly and he is always ready to find a more efficient way to work. Nevertheless, he states with a smile that he should scold him less often (as exculpatory for Basti, it’s not so easy to keep calm with a 80-year-old beekeeper that does not remember at all to be 80 years old).

Then I wondered whether, due to the age, there are days in which he doesn’t feel like visiting the hives so much…

This too seems a nice question, he ponders about it…he admits that yes, unfortunately there are some days like this. Especially when it’s too hot and he knows that he can’t avoid to go there, he can’t postpone. In those moments it’s difficult to start, but once begun, everything proceeds smoothly. He adds also that he enjoys harvesting honey, but here Basti and granny Eva have to laugh much since he starts grumbling for this already a week earlier.

Why should a person take care of bees in his opinion? Any suggestion to who would like to become a beekeeper?

He answers with much spontaneity and passion: for the environment, sustainaibility and biodiversity.

When we asked for any advice, he replied ‘yes yes, who wants, can visit us – I’m here 🙂 ‘- Needless to say, we laughed much. We rephrased the question by asking for any advice to be published on this ‘online newspaper’.

Here his reply: or sure to be motivated, have much patience, be constant, be really interested in taking care of the bees from the A to the Z.

What else? A war, a pandemie and Covid vaccination,… He keeps on being super active and lively! Every morning he gets up with calm, he prepares the breakfast for him and granny Eva. He knocks for telling me ‘Guten Morgen!’ and sweeten my Smartworking lonelyness, 1000 km away from my relatives and friends. Then, ready for his apiary tour… Perhaps are right the bees the secret of his everlasting yougth? Bah, I hope so 🙂

Do you have a message for Granpa Heinz or any question/curiousity? Tell us, we will promptly let him know 🙂

A hug,

The Gäblini

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