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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 07:02 GMT
Hunting the fabled Amber Chamber
By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News

German hunters of Nazi gold say they think they are close to solving one of Europe's most enduring missing treasure mysteries.

The recreated Amber Room
The recreated Amber Room was unveiled in St Petersburg in 2003

The Amber Room, a dazzling construction of panels of the golden resin, backed with gold leaf and mirrors, was commissioned by Frederick I of Prussia.

Presented as a gift to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1716, the room - made up of 100,000 pieces of intricately carved amber of varying golden hues - was installed in the magnificent Catherine Palace near St Petersburg.

It was snatched from there in September 1941 by German troops who took it away in crates, placing the chamber in a castle in Koenigsberg, near the modern-day Russian city of Kaliningrad.

But here the trail runs cold.

Where any of the chamber's fragile fragments could be hidden and indeed whether or not they survived the turbulence of the final years of World War II at all continues to frustrate and fascinate.

History of an obsession

But a German MP thinks he has now found an underground chamber where the priceless loot is hidden.

"We think we have found where the gold is, and hope that alongside it we'll also find looted paintings, and maybe parts of the amber room," says Heinz-Peter Haustein.

He has devoted much time and energy to pursuing a theory that the Amber Room may be situated underground near the northern German village of Deutschneudorf, of which he is also mayor.

A painting in the recreated Amber Room
Called "Eighth Wonder of the World"
Begun in 1701
Final version contained six tonnes of amber
Made up of 100,000 panels
Included mosaics made of semi-precious stones

A new clue indicating where the priceless panels might be hidden was provided by a local man, Christian Hanisch, whose father was a radio operator for the German air force during the war.

"Hanisch went through the papers left by his father, and there he found detailed information where his father helped to hide a gold treasure weighing 1.9 tonnes," Mr Haustein said, adding that he thinks the Amber Room may be in the same place.

He has been hunting for the Amber Room since a German soldier told him on his deathbed that he had personally taken delivery of the relic and that it was hidden near the village.

Rival theories

Investigations have already begun and a meeting of officials will be convened on Friday to decide how to proceed.

Treasure hunting, Mr Haustein maintains, is a dangerous pastime, in more ways than one.

He believes whatever is hidden in the underground chamber might be protected with explosives and poison traps.

There are rivals who want to get to the treasure before you, and there are people who don't want you to find it
Heinz-Peter Haustein, German MP and Mayor of Deutschneudorf

"There are rivals who want to get to the treasure before you, and there are people who don't want you to find it," he said.

But others pour cold water on the idea that the long-disappeared fragments may be about to finally come to light.

"This is the common or garden variety of Red Herring," said Akinsha Konstantin, a Russian art historian and expert on the Amber Room.

"I'll be extremely happy if they find the Amber Room but this is just one of the hundreds of reports that have emerged over the last 10 years."

The mystery has spawned many theories. One has it that the chamber may be concealed deep underground, perhaps in a bunker or abandoned mine.

Amber could indeed survive intact in a damp cavern or chamber.

No logic

But Mr Konstantin suggests that the artefacts have, in all probability, been destroyed.

Some suggest the crates were placed on a ship sunk by a Soviet submarine, others that they were turned to dust by British bombers or burnt to the ground by the Red Army when the castle where they were being kept was destroyed.

"This is the only Russian cultural artefact lost during the war - everybody knows about it. The Amber Room became a symbol and Russians have been repeating it for 50 years," he said.

He says out that not a single piece of evidence yet suggests that the Amber Room's location may be in Deutschneudorf.

"I can see no logic about how it could pop up on the Czech border," he said.

"The Amber Room was in East Prussia. The only way to take it to Germany was by sea. We know all about the attempts to send it by sea. How they could have found the time to take it across Germany to the Czech border is impossible. "

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