The Amber Room is one of the most mysterious stories from the world of gemstones. Delusions of grandeur from a king, a lavish gift, a world war and finally a strange disappearance… Some say that the room exists and is currently in Russia, but this is not the original room. The German company Ruhrgas has funded the new Amber Room for several million euro and gave it back to Russia in 2003. It took 30 years to recreate the room almost identical to the original (craftsmen used rare photographs of original plans to replicate this marvel). But let’s take a closer look at the original in Amber Room.
The 8th Wonder of the World
The Amber Room was commissioned by the Prussian King Frederick I, known for his extravagance. Three amber marquetry specialists, Gottfried Wolffram, Ernst Schacht and Gottfried Turau, did the work according to the plans of the architect Andreas Schlüter. The room was 55 m² and its realization took about 10 tons of amber; a whole room with walls covered in authentic amber!
Friederich I did not live long enough to be able to see the work he commissioned in his lifetime, it was under his successor Friedrich Wilhelm I that was the room finished. During a trip to Germany, Tsar Peter the Great fell in love with this room which at the time was known as the 8th Wonder of the World. In 1716 Friedrich I gave it to his Russian counterpart in 1716, looking to strengthen their alliance.
The Amber Room was shipped to Russia in gigantic boxes and installed first in the Winter Palace, although in 1755 the room was later moved to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. The legend tells that Catherine of Russia greeted her lovers there and that the Amber Room had fountain of youth virtues. The room was said to have had the power to protect and heal anyone who was staying there against the ravages of time. The room underwent many improvements, some by the famous Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
The Amber Room goes back to Germany and disappears
It was during the Second World War and Operation Barbarossa in 1941(where Hitler’s German troops attacked the Soviet Union), that the Amber Room was returned to Germany. The Russians, fleeing the German advance, had no time to move the Amber Room. Dismantled in the blink of an eye by German soldiers, the Amber Room was packed into 27 crates and moved to the Baltic Coast city of Königsberg, presently Kaliningrad. The room arrived at Königsberg Castle on November 13, 1941 alongside the Nazi leader of East Prussia, Erich Koch. The art director for the castle, Alfred Rohde, planned the restoration works.
It is from 1944 that the fate of the Amber Room becomes confusing and mysterious. In August 1944 the British Army Warplanes attacked Königsberg and Königsberg Castle was bombed. Some argue the Amber Room was destroyed in the fire that followed the bombing, as amber is a fossilised resin and not heat resistant. When the Russians took the city on April 9, 1945, the Amber Room was gone.
Another theory states that the premises were burned by Soviet troops in the destruction of the castle and that they kept the secret because if Stalin had known it, they would have been sentenced to death.
One theory is that the room disappeared at the time of the city’s conquest by the Russians on April 9, 1945. Another theory states that the premises were burned by Soviet troops in the destruction of the castle and that they kept the secret because if Stalin had known it, they would have been sentenced to death.
Some official documents point to the theory that Koch and Rohde wanted to hide the Amber Room. In a letter to Berlin written on September 2, 1944, Rhode mentions the search for a place to hide the room, he wrote that it was still intact. A final official document mentions the Amber Room on January 12, 1945. That same day, some Witnesses described seeing several boxes containing the Amber Room. It was intended to be to shelter.
One of the most plausible theories is that the room was on board the the Wilhelm Gustloff ship carrying refugees. It was sunk by a Russian submarine on 30 January 1945 in the Baltic Sea. Since then, treasure hunters hope to find the Amber Room at the bottom of the Baltic sea.
Others think that the treasure is still in the underground cellars of the Königsberg Castle. The Amber Room was lodged in these caves to protect it from bombing. In 2006, excavations of have revealed the presence of unexplored secret passages. Could the Amber Room still be in this secret labyrinth?
Other theories include the idea that the room was moved by train to Germany. Specifically Poppenwald, a forest in the Ore Mountains, where Nazis stored many stolen works of art at the end of the war.
At the end of the war the Gauleiter Koch was sentenced to death in Poland. The sentence was never executed due to bad health although many believe he was spared in exchange for information to find the Amber Room. During interrogation, he reportedly said:
“Find my collection, you will find the Amber Room.”
Mystery surrounds fate of the Amber Room. This secret fascinates many treasure hunters and is the subject of much fictional work. In an interview for the Arte channel, Iraida Bot, director of the Scientific Research Committee Tsarskoe Selo, says that historians now agree on one point:
“The Amber Room has not burned in Königsberg. It is believed to spread in several places. “
This hypothesis was confirmed in 1997: the grandson of a Nazi officer found an amber chest of drawers in his grandfather’s attic. This dresser was part of the furniture of the Amber Room and was returned to Russia.
Lost, dismantled, split up, on the bottom of the ocean, under the earth in a labyrinth, the story of the Amber Room is not yet finished. Treasures hunters and writers preserve this mystery that has not yet revealed all its secrets.
Want to learn more about Amber? Read our article on the Amber road.
Or read our article on the myths of Phaeton & Jurate, and why amber is washed up on our shores.