The ornate amber panels trimmed with gold leaf covered the walls of a formal reception room in a palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia, that Czar Peter the Great had built for his wife. The panels, which took 10 years to make, were a gift from King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia in 1711.
In World War II, the palace was overrun by the German army and the Nazis, being systematic and thoroughgoing looters, stripped the panels off the walls and packed them off to a castle in Germany. The castle was in the city of Koenigsburg, which was pretty much leveled in fighting toward the end of the war. The panels, so far as is known, were last seen in the castle in 1945.
Koenigsburg is now called Kaliningrad and part of Russia, so it's a safe bet the Soviets thoroughly scoured the city for the Amber Room. The Stasi did the same in what was then East Germany. And assorted government missions and private treasure hunters did likewise in West Germany. The panels would be literally priceless.
Still, 63 years later, no Amber Room, even though several times annually someone announces that he knows where the panels were hidden.
Now, Hans-Peter Haustein says he has identified their likely hiding place - or the hiding place of some other Nazi treasure - in a manmade cavern buried in a hillside near Deutschneudorf, close to the Czech border. He says he is "over 90 percent sure" he has located the Amber Room.
Haustein seems like a sensible, reputable sort. He is a member of the German parliament and the mayor of Deutschneudorf. And he says he found the location with the aid of a map and notes given to him by the son of a dead Luftwaffe radio operator who found them in his father's possessions.
For those who find this whole business fascinating, it presents a dilemma: Which would we rather have? The Amber Room, or the continuing mystery?
- Scripps Howard News Service