60-Year Hunt for Russian Czars' Missing
Amber Room May be Over After Discovery in Germany
The Amber Room before WWII
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The hunt for the missing Amber Room of the Czars has taken a new twist with treasure hunters in a small town in east Germany about to break into a bunker they believe may hold one of the lost wonders of the modern world.
The priceless room which once belonged the the King of Prussia Peter the Great was looted by Nazis during WWII and the original wallas have been missing ever since.
But now Matthias Gluba, a civil engineer and hobby historian, has triggered the new frenzy after researching wartime records of the town of Auerswalde near Chemnitz.
Auerswalde was the place where Hitler built the two biggest guns in history - Dora and Gustav - both mighty railway mounted monsters capable of hurling shells weighing tons.
As he probed into the history of the cannons he discovered plans for secret underground workings.
Then he found details of clandestine shipments from the city of Koenigsberg - now Kaliningrad and part of Russia but in 1945 the main city of Germany's province of East Prussia - which was the last known storage place of the fabled Amber Room before it fell to the Red Army.
The Amber Room was stolen by the Nazis from a Czarist palace during their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Crafted entirely out of amber, gold and precious stones, the room made of numerous panels was a masterpiece of baroque art and widely regarded as one of the world's most important art treasures.
When its 565 candles were lit the Amber Room was said to 'glow a fiery gold'. It is estimated to be worth around £150 million today, but many consider it priceless.
It was presented to Peter the Great in 1716 by the King of Prussia.
Later, Catherine the Great commissioned a new generation of craftsmen to embellish the room and moved it from the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to her new summer abode in Tsarskoye Selo, outside the city.
Prussian count Sommes Laubach, the Germans' 'art protection officer' and holder of a degree in art history, supervised the room's transport to Koenigsberg Castle when the Nazis invaded. In January 1945, after air raids and a savage ground assault on the city, the room was lost.
ALthough the original room was partially restored in 1979, it lask the incredible splendour of the origina. The Amber Room has since it dissapeared become the new El Dorado, a quest that enthralled the wealthy and the poor alike.
The Maigret author Georges Simenon founded the Amber Room Club to track it down once and for all. Everyone had a different theory of what might have befallen the work.
The German official in charge of the amber shipment said the crates were in a castle that burned down in an air raid. Now 57-year-old Herr Gluba has re-started the hunt for the fabled room.
He found documents about an air raid on the marshalling yards of Breslau - then German, now the Polish city of Wroclaw - on 4 February 1945. The army reported stated that 40 waggons from Koneigsberg, which had fallen days earlier to the Red Army, were undamaged in the attack and were moving down to Auerswalde 'under conditions of the greatest secrecy.'
'I then found documents stating that captured Soviet POWS, a hundred of them, were detailed to unload the crates from the train and store them in an underground facility in woods outside the town,' he said. 'And there are records of an S.S. detachment being sent down to guard this operation.
'To have this kind of operation so late on in the war when the transport system was desceding into chaos suggests that something very valuable indeed was in those crates.'
Gunter Richter, now 80, is an Auerswalde resident who told Glube that, as a child, he remembered in the Muna Forest outside the town a massive shelter built for munitions works employees that he went into as a boy.
The shelter was 'massive,' he recalled, 'big enough for trucks to turn around in.' It vanished off of maps after the war but last week he and Gluba managed to find a ventilation shaft that leads down into a subterranean structure they believe is the old shelter.
'If this shipment from Koenigsberg that was guarded by the S.S. was unloaded here, then we owe it to history to open it up and look in there,' he said. Planning permission for an excavation is due to be granted next month.
Sources: The Daily Mail