Recreating the Amber Room
Now that Russian craftsmen (above) have spent 25 years laboriously reconstructing the fabled Amber Room, lost from the Catherine Palace, outside of St. Petersburg, during World War II, along comes a story in Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, suggesting that the original, thought likely to have been destroyed, may at last have been found.
Still, the announcement of the “discovery” seems, for now, a bit premature.
David Crossland reports:
Treasure hunters in Germany claim they have found hidden gold in an underground cavern that they are almost certain contains the Amber Room treasure, believed by some to have been stashed away by the Nazis in a secret mission in the dying days of World War II.
The discovery of an estimated two tons of gold was made at the weekend when electromagnetic pulse measurements located the man-made cavern 20 meters underground near the village of Deutschneudorf on Germany’s border with the Czech Republic.
The team, which used heavy digging equipment, hasn’t been inside the room but analysis of the electromagnetic test has led it to believe that the cavern contains gold.
“I’m well over 90 percent sure we have found the Amber Room,” the mayor of Deutschneudorf, Heinz-Peter Haustein, who led the search, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Haustein added that he hoped Germany “could hand it over to the Russians without preconditions and…the Russians could then hand over the art they looted from Germany. That would be a sign of national reconciliation. That’s my goal.”
Given the deep-seated mutual hard feelings over this particularly thorny repatriation controversy, that goal may prove elusive.
When I visited the Catherine Palace in 1997, I saw the first recreated mosaic panel for the room, shown to me by master craftsman Alexander Krylov, who was cited in this NY Times article about the restoration. Ironically, the original of that very panel was recovered by German police in Bremen, soon after the reproduction was completed. Then, except for a lacquered wooden chest, nothing more surfaced…until (possibly) now.
Still, one must bear in mind what amber expert and NYU Conservation Center adjunct professor Alexander Shedrinsky (who had arranged my meeting with Krylov) told John Varoli of the NY Times eight years ago:
If the Amber Room lies hidden somewhere, it is most probably in some damp mine, which means it is almost certainly in a state of ruin.
If, by some miracle, the original could return to its rightful place, what would happen to the reconstructed Amber Room, which opened to the public in 2003? (Some images of that are on Der Spiegel’s online slideshow.)
Do I sense a megabucks touring blockbuster in our future?