Billion-dollar German museum robbery may be one of history’s biggest

Thieves cut power, climb through window into heavily guarded Green Vault at Dresden’s Royal Palace, make their getaway carrying priceless treasures, police say

This April 4, 2019, photo shows a part of the collection at the Jewelry Room of Dresden's Green Vault in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)
This April 4, 2019, photo shows a part of the collection at the Jewelry Room of Dresden's Green Vault in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

A German state museum with one of the biggest collection of baroque treasures in Europe has been robbed, police said Monday, with media estimates tallying the losses at up to a billion euros, or $1.1 billion.

If the figure is accurate, the robbery is likely to go down in history as one of the largest ever.

The treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, now the Green Vault at Dresden’s Royal Palace, was established in 1723 and today contains around 4,000 objects of gold, ivory, silver, precious stones and other materials on display in the historic palace.

Police confirmed a “break-in at the Green Vault” early on Monday morning and said the thieves were on the run after escaping in a sedan.

An police officer walks behind a caution tape at the Schinkelwache building in Dresden, Germany, November 25, 2019. Authorities in Germany say thieves have carried out a brazen heist at Dresden’s Green Vault, one of the world’s oldest museums containing priceless treasures from around the world. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

Officials did not give an estimate, but the German newspaper Bild reported that “antique jewelry worth around a billion euros has been stolen.”

The newspaper said the criminals had broken into the well-protected palace by attacking a nearby power distributor, cutting electricity to the building at around 5 a.m. and then breaking in through a window.

They then proceeded to target smaller items of jewelry, leaving larger, bulkier items behind, Bild reported, without citing sources.

A Golden Coffee Service (1697–1701) on display at the Green Vault in Dresden. (Wikipedia/Hajotthu/CC BY-SA)

The museum confirmed the theft on its Twitter account.

The Green Vault is one of the oldest museums in Europe, having been founded by the August the Strong, Elector of Saxony, in 1723.

Saxony’s premier, Michael Kretschmer, said, “Not only our state collections but we Saxons were robbed,” according to Bild.

The collections marked the work “of many centuries” of Saxony’s craftspeople. “You cannot understand the history of our country, of our state, without the Green Vault and the State Art Collections of Saxony,” Kretschmer said.

File: A picture taken on April 9, 2019 shows one of the rooms in the Green Vault (Gruenes Goelbe) at the Royal Palace in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/AFP)

One of 12 museums that make up the famous Dresden State Art Collections, the vault is split into a historic and a newer exhibition.

The historic section, which contains around three quarters of the museum’s treasures, was the one broken into on Monday.

Its treasures include a 63.8-centimeter (25-inch) figure of a Moor studded with emeralds and a 648-carat sapphire gifted by Tsar Peter I of Russia.

The theft is the second high-profile heist in Germany in recent years, after a 100-kilogram, 24-carat giant gold coin was stolen from Berlin’s Bode Museum in 2017.

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