Swarm of bees paralyzes tram stop, police now must guard embassies


I really enjoy both the German tabloids’ unflagging dedication to stories about animals and the particular hysteria of their animal coverage. The July 4 Bild cover is a real classic: “Swarm of bees paralyzes tram stop at Rosenthaler Platz”, with the juxtaposition of the unrelated headline below, “Police must now guard embassies”, visually suggesting that the police have been deployed to protect embassies threatened by swarms of bees.

Beneath the subheds “fire department powerless” and “beekeepers in action”, the article about the swarm of bees strains even harder than the headline to sensationalize the bees’ peaceful and ultimately uneventful behavior. Here’s a rather literal translation:

It was 10:49 when the fire department received the emergency call: A giant swarm of bees had inexplicably gathered at an M8 tram stop. As the bees buzzed around passengers, some people batted their arms in fear. Trams opened their doors only briefly to let passengers on and off. And ever more bees kept arriving … in the end they numbered some 15,000! Danger! Even a few stings can prove fatal to people with allergies!

BVG spokeswoman Petra Reetz expressed her surprise. “This has never happened before in the Berlin transit system,” she said. The BVG warned the passengers about the bees before they exited the tram. “That way nobody got stung,” Reetz said. But the bees remained on the tracks. The fire department was powerless. Tram passengers phoned Evelyn Jesse’s nearby beekeeping supply shop, where beekeeper Georg R. happened to be shopping at the moment. Jesse excitedly sent Georg R. to Rosenthaler Platz with a white bucket to gather the bees. At this moment a beekeeping hobbyist happened to walk into the shop, and spontaneously joined the effort.

The two experts gathered up some 80 percent of the bees, including the queen. The rest flew away. By 12:30 the danger had passed for the tram stop. Beekeeper Georg R. took home the bees he’d gathered, including the queen.

He later explained to BILD.de the apparent reason for the bees’ “attack”: “Bees are currently confused due to the extremely changeable weather, and are very eager to swarm (schwarmfreudig). When a population gets too big, half of them break off with a new queen – normally in a hollow tree trunk.” But it seems the only dark place these bees found was the tram tracks.

The good news is that Berlin bees are very peaceable. “I was only stung once while gathering the creatures,” the beekeeper said. 

Schwarmfreudig is now my new favorite German word.

4 thoughts on “Swarm of bees paralyzes tram stop, police now must guard embassies

  1. Thanks for catching and sharing this. This is totally normal bee behavior and no cause for panic, but I guess BILD’s whole m.o. is to incite panic over things that are no cause for panic. I’ve been noticing that trick of casually combining unrelated headlines to give the impression of greater disaster…

    A bunch of swarming bees once visited my apartment building (but in New Haven, Conn., not in Berlin). It surprised but didn’t really alarm us. They mostly gravitated to my neighbor’s potted fig tree in the middle of the front yard and left humans alone. My neighbor didn’t bat an eye, just called the local beekeper, Vincent Kay. Everyone knows his name from the jars of honey that can be found on most kitchen counters in that neighborhood, labeled “Vincent Kay – Swords into Ploughshares Honey – Honey from bees you know.” He brought over a bee box with some honeycombs inside and simply placed it near the fig tree. By the next day, the bees had moved to the bee box and he moved them to start a new hive at his place. After that, for my neighbors, Swords into Ploughshares really WAS honey from bees we knew.

    1. That’s wonderful to have a neighborhood beekeeper! Yeah, bees really have it hard enough already without BILD dumping on them. And it was so hilariously absurd to try to make them sound menacing by saying they’re dangerous to people who are allergic to them. I mean, you could say the same thing about a pile of strawberries or peanuts or something.

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