Carved beehives in Germany

“Klotzbeuten” were the first bee abode, the beehive could transported and placed on any arbitrary location. The beekeeper was spared from hard climb in the treetop where the beehives lived. From the apiculture in living trees generated apiculture in holes cut in tree trunks – the tree trunks were hollowed out artificially and later evolved to the so-called stump beehives. The most simple Klotzbeuten is shown below.

Simple form of Klotzbeuten - a beehive in a tree trunk

Simple form of Klotzbeuten - a beehive in a tree trunk

The stump beehives later developed into the so-called sculptured beehives, when faces and bodies were carved into them in order to ornament the sculptured beehives. These “Klotzbeuten” have been replaced by bee baskets (skeps) and now by timber board bee homes right up to industrial-made bee boxes, but some beekeepers, like my father, still have carved beehives out of interest to maintain the tradition.  In the simplest case they have only faces and the bees came out of they mouth. Until last century beekeepers had a tradition, they believed that ghosts of dead people would steal the honey, so they should keep the beehives away from the apiary spirits (and maybe animal enemies such as bears).

One of the intentions was to represent the piety of the apiarist, for example. In this context, the famous figure of the twelve apostles, a collection in Poland of several sculptured beehives with religious designs, must be mentioned. some designs also reflected problems and contemporary, important topics such as sculptured beehives with soldiers of the regiments at that time in allusion to the siege of Vienna by the Turks that took place in the 17th century.

The imaginative mockery of the villagers got its fair share when the skinflint, the village twit, a townie or even the typical quarrelsome, old woman were to be caricatured by means of sculptured beehives.

In my hometown Weimar is one of the oldest bee museums in Germany, where you can marvel at the very extensive collection of those “Klotzbeuten”.

There are also represetations of boozers - alcoholics, and of course animals such as the bear or the lion, and marginal groups of the society such as prostitutes. The so-called "Naked Woman" exhibited at the Bee Museum in Weimar forms part of this group.

Out of inquisitiveness and fun my father had used tree trunks with available concave boles and carved theminto makingsome “Klotzbeuten”…in order to keep an eye at the bees and how they caulk the hole and build the honeycombs.

A carved Klotzbeute – the face is meant to keep away spirits and enemies who steal the honey from the hive.

A carved Klotzbeute – the face is meant to keep away spirits and enemies who steal the honey from the hive.

Even in winter, under snow, the bees will survive in this Klotzbeute

Even in winter, under snow, the bees will survive in this Klotzbeute

He has used ash, basswood and oak because they have a long shelf life. (But the boles were holes before he carved them – he carved the faces, then put bees in the space inside, where the wood had rotted. He looks at the honeycomb in the Klotzbeuten by looking down from the top.)

A Carved Klotzbeute – no longer containing bees, but used as a garden ornament. The lighter lid on top, which could be removed to inspect the hive, has been replaced by a heavier concrete lid.

A Carved Klotzbeute – no longer containing bees, but used as a garden ornament. The lighter lid on top, which could be removed to inspect the hive, has been replaced by a heavier concrete lid.

Author: Luisa Kühn