Last Seen Presents: The Amber Room


Produced by the lab at W._B.. You are Boston. I'm Ben Brock Johnson and I'm Marie Sivertsen and where the hosts of endless thread you know us the friendly W._b.. You are other podcasters who jump into your food from time to time with stories stories. We have another art heist mystery that we think you'll love. It's about one of the greatest missing treasures in the world the amber room here's the story emery you have seen the original Jurassic Park movie right dinosaurs eat man woman inherits. The're clever so emory you obviously remember that part in the movie where there's this little educational video for visitors to Jurassic. Ask Park explaining how dinosaurs get brought to life in modern times using D._N._A.. From ancient mosquito blood I s a movie within the movie uvi Very Meta sometimes after Biden Madonna saw the mosquito would land on a branch of a tree and get stuff in the sun after a long long time the trees have get hard and become fossilized just like a dinosaur bone preserving the mosquito inside. That's how you get it amber and a whole adventure park full of deadly asked Dyno's heck yeah also Jurassic Park was my first understanding of the idea that fossilized a tree sap. Aka Ember is rare and valuable but I had no idea that it was this valuable. I'm fine was golden the bank this is Adrian Levy who is not talking about the Jurassic period. He's talking about Eighteenth Century Europe Levy is Kinda like a journalist version of Indiana Jones and I am live in London though I work around the world as an investigative journalist and producer gathering photographs and documents <hes> in many many different countries so I can put together large scale historic investigations which are much like broken plates when you try and piece bits together to to make whole I already like this guy. I like how serious he is about his work too because we're about to ask Adrian to tell the story of one of the greatest unsolved unsolved mysteries supposedly unsolved mysteries of all time it is a mystery that begins with an artistic feet so massive and innovative it took up an entire room of a palace in fact it was the room a room of amber. It's legendary and it's missing. I'm Ben Brock Johnson. I'm Imerese Iverson and you're listening to endless thread. The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem goes system of online communities called. We're coming to you from W._B._U.. Are Boston's N._p._R.. Station today's episode frozen in amber so if you're into art history you've probably heard about the amber room <hes> but we heard about it through read it. It's one of those stories that gets posted over and over. It's an unresolved mystery a today I learned and to fully explain why it is is perennially posted. I think we should stay with this amber conversation permanent also we should talk about Prussia which is like one of those things that as a dumb American I very little point of reference for but Prussia get started in the fifteen hundreds it is this kingdom and it eventually becomes the German Empire it includes depending depending on when you're taking a snapshot a whole Chunk of Poland plus what is now Germany also a chunk of Denmark look like a lot of European history from the Middle Ages and in the early modern period it is complicated but Prussia is also a so called great power meaning it has global influence and that influence comes not just from military might but also from great wealth Adria Levy says literally tons of this wealth was amber wealth was representation of Prussian might joints may be used and bought it for a number of monarchic missions that needs to be run say wow I had no idea that amber was like a form of of cash. I guess I think it would be fair to say that the wealth of that state was underpins by the royal monopoly remember which both demonstrating might <hes> but also shrewdness in the United States as gold. It's fungible easy to trade limited in supply and its value only ever rose part of this value comes from scarcity but also from theology amber had mystique in these cultures in the Prussian in coach especially because of its ability to catch the past there was also a rumor about it having a kind of charge around intellectual static quality all all right. I feel like I'm in a crystal shop. In twenty nine thousand nine. You're not but <hes> definitely a similar vibe amber special properties maybe so so how did they get their piles and piles of amber piles and piles of ancient forest bits underwater lychee what amber the fisherman wading into the Rossi's of the Baltic on huge lines to prevent drowning and scooping awful wintry see I'm by the flaked off the seabed and risen to the surface so extraordinarily difficult was it to gain large quantities that anyone who it possessed such large quantities themselves became powerful. It's like a kind of dubious idea with diamonds. I'm it's creating a cartel around and extremely precious is commodity. This mystique of course is not lost on the first King of Prussia Frederick. I Frederick Rick is this decorated military leader who rises to lead this new global power and global powers to demonstrate how powerful they are which is how we get to who an entire room of oppression palace constructed out of amber this gemstone that shows up in Idi bitty little pieces at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. That's the plan at least and the conception of it was that if you stepped into a room made up this substance that never been used architecture before and only on broaches or in jewelry other kinds of jewelry that the effect would be like stepping into a time machine a room plastered with an ancient sap suspended in which are insects and parts of leaves and bone that go back many millions of years so <hes> really extraordinary utilization version of this material. I love this idea like I think of time. Machines may be more than the average person but I always think of them. As fancy technological feats I never think of a time machine as a room constructed of gemstones with organic matter frozen inside of them for thousands of years what a beautiful full-fat a beautiful thought and also a tall order. It's going to take years to build this one room and not just because of the detailed work required but because Frederick's basically asking for this really unique collaboration of architects sculptors jewellers and even some chemists to Wad enormous amounts of pooling of mines to work out how to make amber not brittle how to make it manageable how to shape it into panels awesome frames and then suspended behind gold leaf so that it would twinkle by candle lights. The room starts being planned at the end of the sixteen ninety s and it's not really finished until over a decade later in seventeen eleven and then it's installed in the Berlin city palace which is the beginning of things getting weird for this this enormous piece of artwork pretty quickly after it's installed the guy who ordered the thing in the first place. Frederick dies also the lead sculptor Andrea Schlueter sluiter. He has a bit of a rough patch. He builds a big tower on a bunch of sand and the tower collapses and his career is over. He's ruined it. Do be like that. Sometimes I do next king of Prussia Frederick the first successor Frederick William not a big culture guy. He's like the the eighteenth century version of a super jock. He's called the soldier king he does not care for this glowing baroque time machine made out of amber unless we're talking in dollar signs technically. Reich stoller signs but you know what I mean but the amber room is more than just tons of gemstones with suspended organic matter in them backed act by gold leaf and melted into wall panels to visitors who come through the palace in Berlin its jaw dropping it gets called the eighth wonder of the world it's coveted by the rich and powerful including Peter the Great of Russia so Frederick William Who's trying to secure packed with Peter the Great. He says you like it. Take it it was put into enormous number of crates and given the full transportation that was available at the time it was shipped by sledge caught and you dragged. If you like all the way from Prussia to Russia totally normal thing to do take an entire palace palace room jewel encrusted in send it to Russia as a gift for can rich people man. I bet they weren't the ones dragon the sleds through a Europe seriously and this is the beginning of an epic saga. That's really the reason why we're still talking about the amber room today. This room is on a journey worthy the of a real deal time machine a journey that will cover several transports and several tear downs and rebuilds over several hundred years if if anything was made and never to be transported it probably was the amber room. I mean the substances. Brittle it requires being kept a constant temperatures for in order for or it's maturing hugh. It's colors to be maintained that the room is not be too cold or too hot and I certainly think we came across one account that talks talks about the reaction of a courtier when they open the chest and there were many many many smash paces <unk> over it's hundreds of years of existence the ember rooms whereabouts are followed by the people who covered it because it is beautiful the people who want to discover its final final resting place when it gets lost and also people who want to use it for political gain wise the amber room so popular well to mice volleyball missing treasure so let's start with that that headlines pretty good but the pivotal moments of the story absolutely all in the East and they are in areas where information control its absolute. Ariza is extremely hard as a investigates that will scholar to gain access to army sources and so what you have instead is kind of whispering campaign based on folk law. Adrian talks about this a lot the idea that the barriers to primary source accounts of the amber room have allowed it to become even more legendary Gary than it might have otherwise and he should know because Adrian's done maybe the deepest dive on the Amber Room in the book the Amber Room Fate of the world's greatest lost treasure written by him and his Co author and working partner Cathy Scott Clark who he says totally would have also talked to us except she was filming with a they celebrated award winning documentarian. Whatever Kathy seriously though we are relying heavily on Caffeine Adrian's work here they did hundreds of interviews reviews and have chased the amber room to the ends of the earth looking for a work of art with a worth that some estimates put at about half a billion dollars but back back to the seventeen hundreds where the ember rooms journey was just getting started after getting it as a gift and having it dragged across Europe into Russia on a bunch of Sledge's Peter the great forgot about it freaking rich people man but it was eventually reinstalled decades later in a palace near what's now called Saint Petersburg Berg along with the challenge of handling with care while you are transporting via sledge. We have to remember that. It's not that easy to just uninstall one palace rooms worth of decadent panels and reinstall it in a totally different palace. It's not like these palaces are standardized so amber room two point. Oh gets gets a bunch of additional amber thrown in bringing it close to six tons of amber which really complicates matters in a way but nonetheless the amber room is still adored it by a number of curator's who care for this incredibly fragile beautiful now almost six hundred square foot work of art for a while until Adrian says says the number room finds itself at the center of a struggle that will have it moving again. A lot of Adrian's work is based around conflict and war and the amber room story is no different hundreds of years after it was brought to Russia the room moves again because of World War Two in the incursion of Nazis in Russia also the leadership of Russia at the time while they had bigger fish to fry than the amber room lot of problems problems at least ninety nine problems and the amber room ain't one at least not one they're worried about there's a fight for survival happening here but the curator's curator's the people who know and love the value of this great wonder carrying about this stuff. It's their work and it became obvious to them. As Nazi Germany began to rub up against the Soviet Union that's something would need to be done to protect these palaces because there were no official directives that were coming in and interestingly ask the threat rises of Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union <hes> they the courageous off faced with exactly the same appropriate. Everybody is being faced with through history with Ambro which is how to dismantle the crisis jigs around the world and how to reassemble it and how to look Osram once it's dismantles here we go again. Guys stopped taking it apart seriously but the good news of course is that these Russian amber loving in curator's come up with a better plan. They're going to hide it. Does it work more on that in a minute and uh-huh so we left off in Saint Petersburg then called Leningrad which is under siege by the Nazis the siege is. As devastating starvation everywhere there's no heat the siege will last for years. It's eventually classified as genocide an early on the curator's the raiders in charge of the amber room they think they're going to move it and we know from a personal account kept by the lead to writes a young man could could chew off that <hes> they tried like my spicy things I'm getting a knife street driver and placing it underneath a corner of the amber and trying to present off the backing board and we also night from his account that immediate he did that of course the amber shuttered rooms now would freezing cold and makes any curator freak out. I would imagine reading some descriptions of this tightly and I think you could wind back a stage and think that you know the approach of placing that butter knife under the corner of the <hes> the umbrella in itself was fraught but also the city of Leningrad was starving and there was not enough cash to feed people pull let alone each room you can imagine the condition of the room was <hes> AH pulling throw into this situation a revelation of sorts before the war for a bunch of German dignitaries visited the Ember Room and the Russians realized that basically these dignitaries were making a list of the stuff that they were going to take when they took over the Russians needed to protect this thing the clock was ticking now they know that the price will be the heads if they cannot succeed in spiriting way these the these measures to keep them safe from the Nazis so they come up with a cunning ruse which is to make another on top of the room and kitchen remorse idea is to take <hes> wanting a coin of our wedding made from felt or sheepskin and put that up against extraordinarily Brittle Amru and then cover the room <hes> in <hes> rolls of wallpaper that have been left behind. I'm from renovations years ago so bill the fake room inside the amber room to cover it up and hide it absolutely and I think given even the fact that they had no idea how so jigsaw puzzle this was a shrewd move. It's a gambit but it's necessary because eventually the Nazis I get to the palace and they knew exactly where to come so when they were confronted by the room within the room I'm sure initially they were <hes> <hes> non-plussed by what they saw but really within a matter of hours someone had taken a ban at two that padding realized that the amber room was behind it and used a lot more all brute force than most of the rushing rating was prepared to strip the amber room into boxes and then transported it in a quite lengthy route to in what was then cooled can expect on in the Baltic Heist the Baltic coast close to the waters I from whence the amber was fished in the first place full circle in a way and a feather in the hat for brutal German regime that was infamous for for stealing the world's greatest works of art to dubious ends so the amber room was now beneath the castle in German territory hidden from the world ironically unikely enough the same fortress where the to Frederick's at the beginning of our story the PRUSSIAN leader who brought it into the world and the one who sold it to Russia for Military Pact were crowned Kings uh-huh the ember room was back home in a way even if the reasons were despicable and the storage didn't respect it's true glory but near the end of the war the castle is destroyed bombed by the allied forces shelled by the Russians. The castle is burnt to a crisp a ruined skeleton looking mm something maybe like a wall panel of the amber room itself with all the brittle amber shattered and blown out and it may be that this is what happened to the room June two after all it was fragile and for a freaking palace room to be deconstructed and reconstructed over and over like a jigsaw puzzle that it gets a little more beat up every time it's used the amber room had a good run but there wasn't evidence of this destruction people say there just wasn't any shattered amber in the castle ruins. This is really where the trail of the amber room goes cold or maybe just gets confused like a bunch of different a potential timelines because despite the destruction of the castle a lot of the foundations the deep basements of the structure where the amber room supposedly was stored survived survived which is the beginning of gazillion theories about the amber room surviving stories start popping up Adrian's heard and followed them all all such was its enormous value. There's some kind of <hes> <hes> James Bond esque villain villainous empire. That's kept it on display underground K maybe it's in North Korea submerged in a flooded mine between Czechoslovakia and Germany <hes> you know there are endless stories are saying as some of them have an incident allergic to them but any of them defy the the primary material that is available Adrian points to the fascination with the amber room as a real problem because because along with this explosion of potential true timelines for what happens to it after the war comes an explosion of people trying to capitalize on the mystery like actual we'll treasure hunters art nerds people who really want to recover this thing so we called in partnered who's trying to recover things quite busy trying to recover things in fact Act Scott me now. You're GONNA ask away. This is Christopher a Maranello. He's a lawyer and the C._E._O.. Of Art Recovery International Dr Specialty Not at Art Recovery International is recovering stolen and looted worse bar Chris uses databases contacts in the art world old and a boatload of lawyer know-how also a general art history knowledge to chase things down that have been lost half of his work is pro bono because he says he wants to help museums churches and even governments get art back. Most people think that law enforcement is up to the task of recovering all the stolen artwork in the world. It's simply not true. Law Enforcement is underpaid understaffed and that's why organizations exist like Art Recovery International Chris has a specialty recovering artwork stolen by the Nazi's Chris also gets a lot of creative tips. I'm staring at on my screen at a twenty eight page document that at somebody sat me from Serbia today of artwork that they swear is available everything from Davinci's to bask yet. It's a collection of the most horrific fakes you've ever seen so we asked him. Has He ever heard of the ember room. I get approached by a lot of people about the amber room. Usually it's six people who claim they know where it is are looking for a finders fee from me or from someone else you know whenever I asked for a shred a shred shred of evidence. Nobody's able to come up with any Chris says he's never seen a lead not one that Would've come forward by now. There was one thing that happened a break in the case so to speak in nineteen ninety-seven these amber mosaics are discovered covered from the room. It was a huge news story at the time they were in the possession of German soldiers family but Adrian says this trail doesn't go anywhere air because the pieces are actually from when the room was disassembled in Saint Petersburg so they won't help people find the location of the rest in a way this proves one the theories that in the chaos of the war some of the German soldiers might have made off with pieces of the Amber Room but unfortunately Adrian our real heel deal expert. He is not an optimist like at all and I think I'm the wrong person to go through the theories because I'm kind of feeling like the guy who killed field sensor are there any of the crazy theories stories of its continued existence that resonate with you Danny of these give you a tiny glimmer could be reflected in amber of ooh theories familiar crazy in none of the musically Adrian saying clauses dead. I'd love to be proved wrong I would. I'm not a hard. I'm not I'm not gonNA hard for someone to find it to prove them wrong but at the moment the primary history is not tilting in that direction at least he gave us <music> at the moment and not tilting in that direction true and also this is where the ember room story gets even more interesting over and over the amber room I and who possesses it is a demonstration of might the whole history of this eighth. Wonder of the world is tangled up in hundreds of years of these power struggles roles according to Adrian the continuation of the mystery actually has a lot to do with continuing power struggles after World War Two ends. I think I think the end of nineteen forty five is <hes> pretty much one of the first visit by a curator assigned by K._G._B.. And there's a parallel inquiry. That's it's made them but the stars he was not the East German secret place and so you have two masters of untruths Moss's a propaganda who become involved but also to ruthless organizations and within those organizations you also have cultural truth tellers curator's is who themselves would like to get to the bottom of this story and you know if that truth does not match the political needs then <hes> one one sees what happens to these truth tellers and so starts an era where people trying to get to the truth of the ember rooms fate meet unfortunate fates of their own a story we know because again these organizations known for being dubious for Democracy are actually pretty great when it comes to bureaucracy documenting everything and in the first them Sean Gotcha documents that <hes> that came to line. We see that the K._G._B.. And the Ministry of Culture had joint mission the mission sense an extremely capable investigator and archaeologists. If you've been working in Moscow he fought a report back to Moscow his conclusions were that it was likely the amber room was destroyed. droid immediately he submits reports and the report passes passes its way up towards Moscow reaching the inner circles of of governments he is exiled is never forgiven. I'm coming up with the answer to the question of where is now a coach that is elevated uh-huh k._G._B.. As Russia's greatest treasure even though as a Prussian treasure you know how people talk about how many instances Mrs of something equals at trend there are enough examples of bad things happening to people around the amber room that there is talk of a curse General Gustav Russian Russian intelligence officer talks about to journalist killed in a car crash a former German soldier George Stein who has hunting for the artwork also dies unexpectedly actively and in Bavarian forest these things happened years ago but obsession with the amber room and really strange political theater around it continues today with for instance the current leader of Russia Vladimir Putin and his eleven million dollar reconstruction of the ember room which appropriately also took over a decade eight to finish twenty-five years. Actually you know he made make great play of the fact that this one of this new one had been resurrected as the memorial to the loss Russia's Germany and one of the funders of the amber room and of the launch party was a German Mond Gas Company that was looking for Egress in rushing business the idea of opulence in excess being associated with wheeling and dealing between the powerful. Oh and potentially corrupt is familiar right the room itself is <hes>. It's a massively Gordy. Almost <hes> plastic hated AH Nouveau Riche Footballer's wife Nightmare. It's just awful really it's it's amazing how similar Putin and trump are when you really that room would be perfect and more log okay take issue with this comparison if you want but just for the record you know those pictures of President Trump's New York City penthouse you know with the gold toilet and all the gold leaf everywhere aware it's supposed to evoke the style of the palace of Versailles. It's all kind of got similar vibes right but digs on the nouveau riche aside the ember rooms is legacy might have important lessons about negotiation between world powers so will the original amber room ever be found Adrian says no way it was almost definitely blown to smithereens in Kerns Berg Castle but it's still being used not just for negotiation and for manipulation so whenever the Germans Evan complains the Russians would point to the amber room when anyone talks about loss they would use as the amber room is the symbol of loss cultural loss financial loss rape and pillage of palaces and cities and it became a

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