Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Amber Room

In 1716, Russia's Peter the Great received a gift from the King of Prussia: the jewel-encrusted Amber Room. The Amber Room was intended to be a symbol of an alliance between Russia and Prussia and, as an 11 foot square hall of six tons of amber and gemstones, it was an impressive present; today, it would be valued at $142 million. The Amber Room was designed by German Baroque artist Andreas Schlüter and Danish craftsman Gottfried Wolfram and was installed in the Catherine Palace of Pushkin.

The Amber Room is a sad example of the devastation caused by Nazi looting during World War II. On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and sent three million German soldiers into Russia. Air raids and ground assault put the lives of the Russian people in harm's way and were an enormous threat to Russia's greatest art treasures.

While the Hermitage Museum evacuated its most valuable works to the Urals, officials at the Catherine Palace attempted to safeguard the Amber Room by hiding the precious materials behind a thin wallpaper. This measure was to no avail. German troops discovered the room, disassembled it, packed it into 27 crates, and shipped it Germany, where was reinstalled in a museum on the Baltic Coast in Kaliningrad (then Königsberg).

The story does not end there, however. After being on exhibit for two years in Germany and with the end of the war approaching, the museum director, Alfred Rohde, was advised to dismantle the Amber Room and crate it once again. A year later in 1944, the town was bombed by allied forces and the museum left in ruins. The Amber Room crates were never found.

In an article on, writer Jess Blumberg explains that the most basic theory that historians have put forth is that the crates were destroyed in the 1944 bombing. Others believe that the crates will be discovered on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, while some speculate that the amber is still in present-day Kaliningrad. There is even a faction that suspects that Stalin had created a second (and therefore fake) Amber Room and that this was the room that the Nazis in fact stole. In 1997, German detectives received a tip that a man was selling an alleged panel piece from the Amber Room. The lead, however, was a dead end. The seller was the son of a German soldier and had no information about how his father obtained the panel.

Blumberg notes that there is even more intrigue to this story, citing an "Amber Room Curse." She writes,
Many people connected to the room have met untimely ends. Take Rohde and his wife, for example, who died of typhus while the KGB was investigating the room. Or General Gusev, a Russian intelligence officer who died in a car crash after he talked to a journalist about the Amber Room. Or, most disturbing of all, Amber Room hunter and former German soldier Georg Stein, who in 1987 was murdered in a Bavarian forest.
In 2003, a 25-year long project to create a replica of the Amber Room was completed. The $11 million reconstruction can be seen today in St. Petersburg. []

The Amber Room in 1940

Reconstruction of the Amber Room, completed in 2003


  1. Awww yeah! I am so proud of having had anything to do with this fabulous post. Well played.

  2. The Amber Room has been reconstructed in Catherine Palace and is now a great tourist attraction.