The life of two French part-time beekeepers in Hamburg.

The life of French part-time beekeepers in Hamburg.

Thomas Canton and Benjamin Puech.
There is a bee on the roof

These two friendly French guys work as engineers, but that’s only Monday to Friday: on the weekends they put on heavy protection suits and jump onto rooftops. Why is that? In March 2017 they started producing their first honey from beehives located on top of Hamburg rooftops. They are not alone: Jean-Baptiste Gros, Sebastian Domaingue and Paul Gros complete the honey gang.

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From the morning to the evening: What does a regular day spent with the bees look like?

We wake up in the morning and of course eat some honey (laughs), afterwards we check our “There is a bee on the roof” Whatsapp group to see if everybody is awake and ready for the show. The truth is that mysteriously, every time we need to meet, one of us happens to be as hungover as fuck  very tired, so we wait patiently until everyone is ready. We meet at one of the rooftops where we have the hives and spend at least one hour there. We take the time to check if there are babies and if the wax is being formed in the right way. One of us is responsible to write down everything in a notebook. Believe us, that’s not an easy task, everything gets really sticky. Sometimes we also split to put the honey in the jars, that’s a tough job! Spring and summer are busy times, whereas in winter and autumn the bees prefer not to be disturbed much.

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Photo by Oliver Vorberg Photography

Are the neighbors not scared to death? Do you bribe them with free honey?

Not at all! On the contrary, they are really happy and even send us photos from the bees close to their flowers to say thank you. In fact, some of our neighbors became our first customers.

Where does your knowledge of hives come from? Do you think I could also start my own honey business tomorrow?

We read loads of books, watched thousand of youtube videos and we had some experienced helping hands. The cousin of one of our colleagues has his own bees back in France and he gave us hand getting started. He taught us the basics and told us some tips and tricks. You can definitely try to start your own hive, but if you want to sell honey you are going to have to face some serious bureaucracy issues. It drives us nuts!

Does the honey taste like Hamburg? Which flowers are there in town?

The first time we tried honey from the hive we were amazed that the flavor could be so complex. It tastes like the different flowers growing in all the parks around. You may not realize, but we have quite a lot!  People say the honey also has a quite strong taste. The taste of honey is influenced by location and time: that means that this summer’s honey won’t taste the same as next year’s honey. Since this is the first batch, it is a very special one. We are also looking for more roofs to set up more hives, until now we have two locations, both of them are in Eimsbüttel: one hive is on top of Burger Kultour and the other one on the roof of Hamburg Haus.  

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What’s the best way to enjoy honey? Or maybe you guys have had too much of it by now …

Thomas: Not yet! Putting your finger in the jar and licking it straight from there is the best way to enjoy it!
Benjamin: I just put a spoon of it in my tea.

Really? That sounds boring!

Benjamin: There are many other ways of course: I’ve got a great oven recipe in which you fill a pastry with some goat cheese and honey. It’s a perfect snack to quickly make to go with an aperitivo drink.
Thomas: For me a salad with goat cheese cannot miss a touch of  honey.

How many times did you get bitten?

That’s a good question! We have a blackboard with all of our names written down and every time someone gets bitten we add up one point. Naturally, different parts of the body count differently. One of our colleagues just got bitten last week – straight in the nipple. (OUCH! )

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Thomas: I think I’m probably the winner. My worst one was on my forehead. We didn’t have the first aid stuff nearby and one of our colleagues came and tried to suck the poison out from it, as if we were in the jungle. That was something very awkward (laughs).

I see you are having some fun with the whole experience, which are the biggest challenges you had to face?

The legal part. That is the most frustrating. We wish it was easier to set up a company and being able to sell our honey to everybody who wants to taste the flavor of the only honey produced in roofs in Hamburg*

*The guys from “There is a bee on the roof” are the only ones with hives in roofs of Hamburg, however you can also find honey from Hamburger Stadthonig (not form rooftops but from Hamburg) and Hny Mee (helping local producers to be visible in town by distributing their honey, however the honey is produced outside the city)


Interested in giving the honey a try? Curious about honey production in the city? Feel like practicing some French with Thomas and Benjamin? Do you have a floor to set up a hive? Get in touch with these friendly guys via Instagram or Facebook.

Author: Sabela García Cuesta
@HHSabela (Twitter / Instagram)

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