Biggest Theft Since WW2?
German Jewellery Heist
Thieves in Dresden's German city have broken into one of Europe's largest art treasure collections, making off with three pieces of 18th-century jewels of "unmeasurable worth" in what German media has described as the biggest such robbery since World War II.
The spectacular heist happened at dawn on Monday, after a fire broke out at a local electricity delivery center, crippling the museum's alarm and plunging the city into darkness.
A cctv system, following the power loss, captured two people breaking into the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) at the Royal Palace in Dresden.
Dresden police chief Volker Lange said the robbers had broken a windshield and sliced through a fence before entering and opening a display cabinet in the Jewel Room at Grünes Gewölbe "in a coordinated manner."
Within minutes after being alerted to the burglary just before 5 am local time, police arrived at the scene but the perpetrators had fled. A burning car discovered early Monday in Dresden could have been the vehicle for the getaway, police said. In an effort to deter the perpetrators from fleeing, police have set up roadblocks on motorway access roads across town.
But the gallery's close proximity to the motorway is likely to have aided the swift escape of the robbers, police said.
German media claimed the burglary damages could amount to the high hundreds of millions of euros, but Dresden's state art collections director Marion Ackermann said it was difficult to quantify the worth of the pieces.
German media speculated that the burglary loss could amount to the high hundreds of millions of euros, but Dresden'shead of state art collections Marion Ackermann said it was hard to measure the pieces ' value.
“We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell,” she said, appealing to the thieves not to break the collections into pieces. “The material value doesn’t reflect the historic meaning.”
Ackermann said the missing objects contained three "priceless" collections of diamonds, including brilliant-cut diamonds belonging to a selection of jewellery from the 18th century collected by the museum's founder.
Created in 1723 by August the Powerful, Saxony's Elector, the Grünes Gewölbe is one of twelve museums that make up the prominent collections of state art in Dresden. It earned its name due to the decoration of certain rooms with malachite-green color.
One of Europe's oldest collections, the Grünes Gewölbe houses jewels including a 63.8 cm figure of an emerald-studded Moor and a 547.71-carat sapphire donated by Russia's Tsar Peter I.
The museum currently consists of two parts, a historic one and a modern one. It was the main portion that was broken into on Monday, which holds about three-quarters of the museum's artifacts.
Entrance to the historic vault needs to be reserved in advance, so there is a tight cap on the number of guests a day. Exhibits are set in nine rooms, including an ivory room, a silver ornamented room and a main Treasure Hall.
Michael Kretschmer, Saxony's chief, whose capital is Dresden, has said he has been saddened by the defeats. "The gallery was not only robbed, but the Saxonians too," he said. "Without the Grünes Gewölbe and the state art collections of Saxony you can not appreciate the history of our republic, or the free state of Saxony."
Alone the Grünes Gewölbe consists of 10 rooms with about 3,000 jewellery objects and other masterpieces. During the Second World War the building was severely destroyed but was rebuilt successfully, reopening in 2006 to great international fanfare. Since 1724, when it first opened to the public, it had become a tourist attraction.
One of the most prominent and precious jewels of the collection, the Dresden Green Diamond, is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for an exhibition along with other important items.
Saxony's minister of the interior, Roland Wöller said: "Today is a bitter day for Saxony's cultural heritage. The robbers looted unmeasurable cultural riches–this is not just the intrinsic worth but also the intangible interest to the state of Saxony, which can not be measured.
Wöller said police had already formed a special investigation unit to investigate the case. "We will do whatever we can not only to bring back the cultural artifacts but to apprehend the offenders," he said.
Leading experts in foreign crime argued on the motivations of the robberies.
The Dutch "art hunter" Arthur Brand, who had made headlines earlier this month after uncovering a long-lost gold ring belonging to the writer Oscar Wilde, said the items may have been stolen by people trying to sell them, but would soon discover that there was no chance of doing so.
"But the second and worse case would be trained thieves who only want the items for their intrinsic worth, the gold or silver melting down, who will cut out the diamonds and market them individually," he told Der Spiegel. "So as long as they ruin the games, they will of course be lost forever."
Bernhard Pacher, president of the auction house Hermann Historica, told the tabloid Bild that if the stolen items have a valuation of EUR 1 billion, as originally reported by the authorities, "then though they are broken down and burned, they would still yield a return of EUR 100-200 million, which still makes it worth stealing."
Ackermann said that after what seemed to have been a carefully orchestrated heist, security at the State collections will now undergo a comprehensive analysis.
"Of course, such an event begs the issue of what can be changed, what can be done better in the future," she said. "But there is no coverage like 100 per cent."
Theft is Germany's second high-profile heist in recent years, after a 100 kg, 24-carat gold coin was looted from the Bode Museum in Berlin in 2017.
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