Amber Room

The Amber Room was created between 1701 and 1713 for the Charlottenburg Palace of the first King of Prussia Friedrich I, but it was then installed in his Berlin City Place. It was designed by the German Baroque sculptor Schlueter.

In its original shape the Amber Room consisted of 10 base panels and 12 wall panels that covered together an area of 4.75m in height and 14m in length.

Tzar Peter the Great admired the room while visiting the palace in Berlin in 1712. 1713 Friedrich I died and his son Friedrich Wilhelm I, the Soldier King, took over. Contrary to his father he had no interest in the arts at all. He rather doubled the size of his army to make it the largest and most powerful army in Europe (though he never fought a war). He financed it by (among other things) cutting the founding for arts and science.

When Friedrich Wilhelm I sought in alliance with Peter the Great in 1716, he presented him with the Amber Room as he remembered Peter the Great had admired it during a visit. The treaty however, never happened. Peter the Great gave Friedrich Wilhelm I some of the 6 feet+ soldiers, the Soldier King so cherished, in exchange.

After a short stint in Petersburg the 18 crates holding the Amber Room at this time were brought to the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoe Selo to be installed in one of the party halls. This room had a wall length of 40m and a height of 6m. The architect Rastelli was hired to create a design that would make up for the size discrepancy. He added 24 large Venetian made mirrors to frame the 12 original wall panels. The base panels for these mirrors were made from amber as was the panel sitting on top of the main door. The two other doors were crowned with gilded wood carvings. The white doors were decorated with golden ornaments. The floor was made from intarsia parquet. And to fill the gap between the wall panels and the ceiling’s painting an ornamental frieze was designed. Little gadgets like statues, chandeliers, candle holders, boxes and furniture decorated with gold and amber made the room perfect.

The Amber Room existed in this shape from 1763 to 1941. On June 21, 1941 Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union. Among the countless units participating in the attack were such that were specialized in finding and looting art treasures. Usually these units were headed by art scientists, who had planned and organized the largest and most perfect art robbery in the history even before the fighting started.

In a fight on life and death the Russians mostly had to forgo rescuing art in order to rescue people. Especially in the area around Leningrad (today Petersburg) the paintings, gadgets and books would have filled trains and not just crates. So, only the most important pieces could be brought to the Ermitage or the Isaac Cathedral or they were buried. Among those were some exhibits from the Amber Room. The room itself was safeguarded with wallpaper and splinter shields as good as possible – it was also a poor attempt to hide it from the Nazis – when the Nazis took Pushkin, the former Tsarskoje Selo.

The panels were damaged by German soldiers braking amber from them as souvenirs. Other pieces were looted to be presented as gifts to leading figures of the army and the regime. In October 1941 the Nazis transported 27 crates holding the most important parts of the Amber Room – panels and doors etc. – on 18 trucks carrying other art as well to Koenigsberg. It was installed in a room of Koenigsberg Castle from 1942 – 1944. But when the bombing of Koenigsberg by the RAF in summer of 1944 happened, the room was back in crates and in the basement of the castle waiting for its evacuation. The castle as well as the city suffered extensive damage by the heavy bombings and before and after the fall of Koenigsberg on April 9, 1945 to the Red Army.

At some moment in time in this chaos the trace of the Amber Room vanishes. Some say, it was destroyed in a fire after the castle was hit by the RAF bombs or when it was burnt down by the Russians shortly after Koenigsberg surrendered; some say the Germans succeeded to evacuate it from the castle in time and either hid it or it sunk with the Wilhelm Gustloff; others again say that the Red Army found it in the castle upon their arrival and hid it somewhere in the Soviet Union like they did with the Schliemann treasure.  It’s a big mystery.

In 1979 reconstruction of the Amber Room started. It was financed by the German company Ruhrgas AG. By 2003 the works were mostly completed.

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