Vicious Hornet Swarm at German Wine Festival Sends 13 to Hospital

"They're just bees," they said. "They're more afraid of you than you are of them," they said.
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Around the world, people commemorate the end of summer in various ways. Here in the US, we sneak in one last long, light beer-fueled weekend before the dreaded reality of the back-to-school season, while in southwest Germany, along the Swiss border, folks gather in a somewhat more dignified fashion, sipping fine wine among the region’s bountiful grapevines. On Sunday, that’s precisely what a small crowd of revelers was attempting to do in the appropriately named town of Weingarten when the party was rudely interrupted by a huge swarm of stinging hornets.

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According to Newsweek, the feisty insects emerged from a hollow cherry tree before descending on the oenophiles, stinging with abandon and injuring 18 people. (Because this is Germany, children were present at the wine festival, but none of them were harmed). With German efficiency, two rapid response units arrived on the scene shortly, transporting 13 victims to a nearby hospital—none, thankfully, with life-threatening injuries.

After the vineyard party ended on a sour note, a pest control expert moved the nest to a safe location, and authorities checked other area trails for nests. In Germany, only properly qualified officials can conduct these tasks; hornets and other “nuisance” bugs are, very humanely, protected by law, and their unauthorized killing can technically result in a fine ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 euros.

But while a pastoral wine festival among the trees evokes the image of a peaceable, upright affair, it’s possible the merrymakers had gotten a little too rowdy. Normally conflict-avoidant animals, hornets rarely sting unless they’re threatened. Prior to swarming, the bugs had been gathered deep inside their nest in the tree, and likely emerged because they were menaced in some way.

"I assume that something has happened," said Thomas Lauber, the area’s hornet expert, because of course European countries have district-specific hornet experts. "Hornets are usually peaceful animals. The nest lies in the hollow of a cherry tree. Maybe someone came too close to the tree or shook it."

A little too much gewürztraminer, perhaps?