Witnesses reported seeing the 24 crates containing what has been called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” at a railroad station at Königsberg, Prussia in 1943. They had earlier been seen in the courtyard of Königsberg Castle.
They were never seen again.
Inside the crates, was an all-amber room that was built by Prussia’s Frederick I between 1701-1706 and later given by Frederick’s son, Frederick William I, to Peter the Great of Russia. The chamber, when assembled, was completely enclosed with amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors and garnished with mosaics, nymphs, cupids and angels, inlays, landscapes, and miniatures — all in amber.
Its construction nearly broke the Prussian economy when it was built, and its worth today, if it were ever found, is estimated to be near $200 million.
Peter accepted Frederick Wilhelm’s gift, something, he said in a letter, he had “dreamed of for a long time.” The Amber Room was disassembled and moved to Russia, but nothing was done about reassembling it there — largely because no one was able to figure out how the badly-marked pieces went together — until the woman who would become Catherine the Great ascended the Russian throne in 1767.
Catherine, who originally came from the amber-mining region near the Black Sea, added another 900 pounds of amber to the room and implemented the work done by an Italian sculptor who had worked on the reassembly problem. She also added large windows to the room and had it assembled at her Tsarskoye Selo palace.
The completed room was said to come alive in candlelight.
The room languished in the St. Petersburg — later Leningrad — Palace until June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia. Ten weeks after the invasion, Germany laid siege to Leningrad. As the siege continued, Russians in the city struggled to save what historic treasure they could, including the Amber Room. Because of the fragility of the amber and the resulting difficulty in removing and storing it, a false room was built inside the Amber Room that hid it from view. But when the Nazis took the palace in September, they discovered the room, disassembled it, and stored it in crates. Those crates were then moved to Königsberg, again reassembled, and displayed in the town’s castle, the former home of the Teutonic Knights.
As the war wound down, Königsberg became the target of frequent Allied bombing raids and the room was again disassembled, loaded in crates, and stored in the castle’s cellar. The crates containing the Amber Room were seen in the castle’s courtyard in January 1945 and later at the railroad depot in Königsberg.
From there, they disappeared.
Since the war, searches have all been unsuccessful in locating any trace of the missing crates and their contents. Numerous theories as to what happened to the famous Amber Room have also been broadcast — all unsubstantiated.
As recently as 2008, radar scans detected a large amount of metal believed to be too dense to be copper in an abandoned copper mine in Deutschneudorf, Saxony that some people, including Hans-Peter Haustein, mayor of Deutschneudorf, claim is the burial site of the Amber Room. Others believe the Amber Room was hidden 2,000 feet down in a salt mine near Gottingen, Germany that has since been flooded. Still other researchers have speculated that the Amber Room was loaded aboard the German liner Wilhelm Gustoloff, which was being used to move refugees across the Baltic Sea, and went down with the ship when it was sunk in January 1945.
Or — perhaps the most likely of all — it was simply destroyed during the Royal Air Force bombing raids in early 1945.
Fortunately, the curious can still get a glimpse of the room’s splendor.
A copy of the room has been created based on black and white photos that were taken of it. Russian President Vladimir Putin dedicated the room at a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of the city of Saint Petersburg in 2003. That copy is currently on display at the Tsarskoye Selo Palace.