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Buzz of the city

France [WILDLIFE]

Forget country meadows, the window boxes and flowerbeds of major cities are where French bees are happiest – and most productive. As the number of bees in France has dropped, the ­national union of apiculturists has encouraged people to start keeping bees in cities. Hives are now kept on the roofs of government buildings, cultural institutions and company headquarters in Paris, Marseille, Montpellier and Lille.

It’s a paradox but we realised by bringing them into the city, bees thrived,” says Félix Gil, an apiculturist and president of the Paris section of the national beekeeping organisation. “In the countryside they were hindered by pesticides and genetically modified crops.”

Cities, however, have fewer pesticides and more flowers. According to Gil, the trend is having an unforeseen effect on the age-old profession. “All our apiculture schools are full with two-year waiting lists to get in.” But for most city-dwellers it’s just made “miel béton” (concrete honey) the hottest thing to have in the larder.

The bee list:

  1. Urban production: A country beehive can produce up to 25kg of honey a year. In the city, production can be up to 80kg.
  2. Gimme hive: There are appromixately 300 registered beehives in Paris. The most expensive honey (€15 for 125g) is from the hives on the roof of the Paris Opéra.
  3. Keepers of the faith: Between 1995 and 2008, the number of beekeepers in France fell from 85,000 to fewer than 70,000.
  4. The buzziest: Turkey is the largest producer of honey in Europe. Germany eats the most.

Heil heritage

Austria [PROPERTY]

For the last 55 years Braunau, a remote Austrian village, has kept a lid on its most unsalubrious bit of heritage – a non-descript, two-storey building where Adolf Hitler was born in 1889. The village has been renting it from the private owners to use as a disability care home. Now the owners have put it up for sale, but the village cannot raise the €2.2m needed to keep it on. Locals fear neo-Nazis may buy it to use as a pilgrimage site and Mayor Gerhard Skiba hopes the interior ministry will step in. He wants to turn it into a “House of Freedom” or “Responsibility” for some kind of scientific research. But since both countries joined the EU in 2007, the small Bulgarian town of Ruse has become a thriving melting pot. It sits at the only crossing point along the countries’ 470km border formed by the Danube river. And these days it is flooded with Romanians popping across the river to do their shopping. Suddenly, Bulgarians are learning Romanian as fast as they can.

Special Friends

EU [BORDERS]

There’s nothing like EU membership for improving relations between neighbours. Historically, Bulgarians dismissed their northern neighbours as “polenta-eaters” while Romanians put down Bulgarians as “cucumber-farmers”.

Ugly no more

Sweden [ELECTRICITY]

Roadside views are improving in some parts of Europe as electricity firms test ways to make pylons more pleasing to the eye. Swedish design firm No Picnic is supplying two sculpture-like creations for grid operator Svenska Kraftnät, while Finland has adopted more handsome-looking pylons and the Czech Republic will follow suit.

Plane simple

Bulgaria [BOYKO BORISOV]

Once the bodyguard of Bulgaria’s communist dictator, Todor Zhivkov, Boyko Borisov has been Bulgaria’s prime minister since his GERB party swept to power in parliamentary elections last July. The former karate coach is seen by many as a real-life action hero, who they hope will be able to put an end to rampant corruption and help the country beat the recession, which has left the economy battered and bruised. Bulgaria climbed up one place – to 71st – in Transparency International’s 2009 corruption index, so perhaps something’s just about working. Borisov has broken with the past by choosing almost modest travel arrangements. When he headed to Poland to discuss an energy deal with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Borisov travelled with his team in a simple nine-seat Dassault Falcon. Sure it’s a private jet but it was common practice for the previous government to fly on bigger TU-154 planes and invite along as many journalists as possible (who were then expected to provide favourable reports in return for their free flights).

At home, Borisov can no longer roll in to work behind the wheel of the Subaru B9 Tribeca he used to drive when he was mayor of Sofia – he now needs an armoured BMW. And wherever he goes, he is usually escorted by at least two bodyguards.

Aircraft

In its final days in power, the previous government signed a contract for two second-hand Airbus A319 planes. Borisov wanted to cancel the deal, to save money, but he had to keep one of the planes (previously used by the low-cost carrier Air Berlin) because a down payment of €7m had already been paid. He is yet to use it as there are currently no pilots certified to fly it in Bulgaria. The Dassault Falcon was bought in 2001 by then prime minister Ivan Kostov. The Falcon is used by the president, the prime minister and ministers on short trips within Europe (mainly Brussels).

Cars

The National Guard Service has favoured German cars for decades. BMW and Mercedes were the cars of choice for the communist regime and all the democratically elected governments afterwards. Apart from having a range of Soviet Chaikas, the communist dictator Zhivkov was driven around in a Mercedes 600 Pullman Landaulet. Prime Minister Borisov can be seen every morning in an armoured BMW 7 Series, bought in 2006. Sometimes he uses a slightly older Mercedes S550 140, which is also bulletproof, and will occasionally venture out in a Toyota Land Cruiser should the weather take a turn for the worse.

Clearing the air

Spain [ENVIRONMENT]

From January, planes landing in Spain are obliged to put their engines into idle thrust for the last 180km of their journey to reduce noise and CO2 emissions. While the engine is idle, the momentum of the plane keeps it moving forward while losing altitude – the engines are then reignited for landing. Passengers will hardly notice the change (except perhaps the slightly longer journey – a mere two minutes). Each flight will save up to 160kg of fuel and up to 480kg of carbon emissions. While some airlines already make green landings, Spain is the first country to make it obligatory for all.

Swedish airline SAS (right) has been a pioneer of green approaches since 2006, and understands the difficulties. “We want to share our knowledge with airlines around the world. But many organisations have to collaborate for green-flight savings to work properly,” says Håkan Olsson, a director and general manager for SAS. A call to arms indeed – could it be time for other airlines and nations to follow?

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