The history of the Institute of Apiology


The first years

The Oberursel Bee Research Institute of the Polytechnic Society was founded in 1937. A bee epidemic had destroyed large populations of colonies and research into causes and therapies was being carried out at full speed in Germany. Against this background, the Institute in Oberursel was established as the first of its kind in Hesse at the then newly built Settlement Teaching Farm. A centrifuging room was set up in the basement, laboratories were located on the ground floor and the master beekeeper lived in the attic. The building was completed in 1938 and its first director was Hugo Gontarski. From the very beginning the Institute had two main tasks: Basic research and support of practical beekeeping. However, the Second World War interrupted the development phase of the Institute and after the end of the war the Settlement Teaching Farm became part of the US American barracks "Camp King". In 1956, the Polytechnic Society acquired a single-family house with land in Hohemark, which was rebuilt as a new research building.

Thanks to the tireless commitment and idealism of Hugo Gontarski, the institute was able to successfully conduct research even in these difficult years of new beginnings. Gontarski especially studied nosemosis, an intestinal disease of bees, and tried to develop forms of therapy against it. He researched honey chemistry, nutritional physiology and bee anatomy. Gontarski was also particularly involved in teaching beekeeping and bee biology. The cooperation agreement concluded with the University of Giessen during his time ended with Gontarski's death in 1963.

Cooperation with the University of Frankfurt

A new, very successful phase in the institute's development was initiated in 1963 by Martin Lindauer, then director of the Zoological Institute of the University of Frankfurt.
On his initiative, the Institute of the Polytechnic Society was closely tied to the University of Frankfurt by contract. Lindauer brought Friedrich Ruttner, the highly respected director of the Bee Institute in Lunz, Austria, to Oberursel in 1964 to head the institute. Ruttner simultaneously became professor of zoology in the Department of Biology at Goethe University. The contract between the university and the Polytechnic Society secured funding for the institute, but modern laboratories and offices were also urgently needed. Funds from the Volkswagenwerk Foundation and the purchase of land enabled the construction of a modern, two-story extension with over 300 m² of floor space to the old institute building. Friedrich Ruttner is considered the founder of modern bee geography. His "Taxonomy and Biogeography" opened a new chapter in the scientific classification of honey bees and is still a standard work in bee biology today. Soon the world's most important scientific collection of bee species and subspecies existed in Oberursel, which today comprises more than 3000 valuable specimens. Ruttner maintained intensive research contacts with scientists from all over the world, and in 1970, together with his French colleague Jean Louveaux, he founded the journal Apidologie, which is today the most important bee science journal. Under his leadership, the Oberursel Institute became one of the world's leading bee institutes in mating behavior, genetics, taxonomy and bio- or phylogeography of honey bees. Especially results on the mating behavior of queens and drones and the introduction of artificial insemination had a lasting impact on beekeeping throughout Germany. Ruttner always attached great importance to the practical applicability of his findings: his book "Die Zuchttechnik und Zuchtauslese bei der Biene" (Breeding Techniques and Selection in Bees) put practical beekeeping on a solid scientific footing. When the Varroa mite was first discovered in Germany in 1976, researchers from Oberursel developed the first control methods against the parasite.

Nikolaus Koeniger headed the institute from 1981 to 2007. Koeniger, who earned his doctorate under Ruttner, initially worked on alarm and brood pheromones. After his return from Canada, where he had represented bee biology and "apiculture" as a professor at the Department of Environment at the University of Guelph, the fight against the Varroa mite and the containment of large bee losses initially took priority. After the successful development of constant-release applications in Oberursel together with Polish colleagues, the varroa situation eased. Comparative studies on parasitic mite species in Asia led to the discovery of a new mite species of the giant honey bee (Tropilaelaps koenigerum), which apparently can also infest our honey bee species in Asia. Together with Asian colleagues, Koeniger discovered and described a new honeybee species (Apis nuluensis, Tingek, Koeniger and Koeniger 1996) and provided evidence for other previously described honeybees as separate species. Together with his wife, he analyzed reproductive isolation in sympatric bee species.


The year 2007 marks another turning point in the history of the Institute. With the new financial possibilities of the Polytechnische Gesellschaft, a new cooperation agreement with the Goethe
with the Goethe University and the scientific orientation was redefined: brain research on bees was to be conducted at the institute. In 2008, Bernd Grünewald was appointed head of the Institute for Bee Research and at the same time became the first endowed professor of the Polytechnic Society at the Goethe University. Since then, research has been conducted in Oberursel on the functioning of the bee brain, the bee's learning behavior, and the effects of bee diseases and pesticides on the physiology and behavior of the honey bee. Traditionally, the maintenance of the bee collection and the development of new therapies against variosis continue to be among the core tasks of the institute in Oberursel.

Timetable of the history of the institute

Celebration of the 75th anniversary of the institute

Move into new laboratory rooms in the Biologicum

Renovation of the institute, start of neurobiological research and teaching

Prof. Dr. Bernd Grünewald endowed professor of the Polytechnic Society and new director

New contract between Polytechnische Gesellschaft and Goethe University

Sale of the Sparkasse 1822 by the Polytechnische Gesellschaft

First description of the bee species Apis nuluensis by Tingek, Koeniger and Koeniger

Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Koeniger new director of the institute

Discovery of the first Varroa mite in Germany by Oberursel researchers

Foundation of the journal "Apidologie" by Friedrich Ruttner and Jean Louveaux

Appointment of Prof. Dr. Friedrich Ruttner as director to Oberursel

First contract between Goethe University and Polytechnic Society

Death of Hugo Gontarski

1956 - 1963
Close cooperation with University of Gießen

Purchase and reconstruction of a family house by the Polytechnic Society

Area around the institute becomes part of the US barracks "Camp King

Interruption of research during the Second World War

Completion of the building on the settlement teaching yard, 1st director: Hugo Gontarski

Foundation of the Institute of Apiology by the Polytechnic Society