Forgotten History: The Amber Room
The Amber Room
The Amber Room was a Baroque masterpiece of panels inlaid with amber and precious stones. It was created by highly skilled artists in the early 1700s at the palace of Prussian Emperor Friedrich I. His son was more interested in political power than the arts, so when he came to power he leveraged the Amber Room for an alliance. In 1716 he gave the room to Peter the Great of Russia in return for Russia's support against Sweden. The intricate panels, parquet floors, Florentine mosaics, and carved amber were installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as a part of a European art collection.
In 1755 Czarina Elizabeth suggested the Amber Room be moved to a bigger space in Catherine Palace. It was redesigned to fit in the larger area with the addition of amber from Berlin. Elizabeth used the room as a meditation area, Catherine the Great used it as a gathering space for her friends, and Alexander II used it as a trophy room for his own amber collection. After plenty of 18th century Russian renovations, the room was 180 square feet, over 6 tons of amber and precious stone, and valued at over $142 million in today's dollars.
At the beginning of World War II, the Nazis were short on cash and began to loot all of Europe to fund their war efforts. It is estimated that the Germans stole $400 million in gold from occupied nations and $140 million from individuals. Hitler also desired to create the greatest museum of all time in his home town, so his troops stole some of the world's best works of art to add to his collection. This included the Amber Room.
Russian curators tried to hide the room by taking it apart, but when they began to take down the panels, they crumbled, so they wallpapered over it instead. But the Germans were not fooled. The soldiers found the room, took down the panels, packed them up, and shipped them to Konigsberg. The room was reassembled and put on display at the Castle Museum for two years. In 1943, with the Allies approaching, the Nazis attempts to hide the room. The curator packed it up and the Amber Room was never seen again.
What happened to the Amber Room?
There are many theories about the fate of the Amber Room. Here are some of them:
1. The crates containing the Amber Room were destroyed when the Allies bombed Germany.
2. It wads destroyed by the Red Army's burning of the city.
3. The Amber Room is still hidden somewhere in Konigsberg.
4. It is still hidden somewhere else.
5. It made it out of the city but sunk in a ship to the bottom of the Baltic.
6. Stalin had a second Amber Room and the German's had actually stolen the decoy.
7. Hitler's body wasn't burned at his death; he is buried with the Amber Room.
8. In 1945, Patton's army found a mine far outside of Berlin filled to the ceiling with gold, cash, and priceless paintings. Some believe that the Amber Room is in a similar mine. If it was hidden there, it probably destroyed by now because it was even in need of restoration in the 1940s.
The Fate of the Amber Room
By the 1970s, the Russians finally gave up the search for their beloved room. Instead they commissioned a reproduction based on black and white photographs and memories. In 1997, German art detectives found someone selling a piece of the Amber Room: an original mosaic panel. The reproduction artists could finally compare their work to the original. It also proved that the Russians were able to hide a few pieces from the Nazis after all. In 2003, the new $11 million Amber Room was opened to the public.
What would happen if the real Amber Room was ever found? According to the Geneva Convention, priceless cultural artifacts must be given back to the country of origin. Maybe one day the people of Russia will see it's beloved room returned.
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