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Amber Room: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ Disappeared During the Second World War

Kate Bulo
Photo Credit: Андрей Андреевич Зеест / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: Андрей Андреевич Зеест / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Hohenzollern dynasty built some of the most beautiful structures in Germany. Their residence in Berlin’s western district of Charlottenburg has become something of a landmark. It was originally constructed as a simple summer residence, but, today, is the largest palace in the city. One of its most famous rooms was the Amber Room, which has become the center of a decades-long mystery.

Constructing the Charlottenburg Palace

Exterior of the Charlottenburg Palace
Charlottenburg Palace, 2014. (Photo Credit: ernstol / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

The construction of the Charlottenburg Palace was done at the behest of Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, the wife of Frederich III, Elector of Brandenburg. Baroque architect Johann Arnold Nering designed the two-and-a-half-story structure, but died before the project could reach completion. As such, architects Andreas Schlüter and Martin Grünberg stepped in.

After Frederich III was crowned king (becoming Frederick I of Prussia), royal architect Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe worked to turn the residence into something more lavish and akin to the Palace of Versailles in France. This was accomplished through the addition of two wings, which surrounded a courtyard, and the main structure was extended.

Inspired by the architectural style that was spreading across Europe at the time, von Göthe also built an iconic dome, which had a sculpture of Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck and fortune, placed atop it.

Sophia Charlotte passed in 1705, but had previously expressed her desire to rework the gardens that surrounded the palace. She entrusted Siméon Godeau with the task, and he built an orangery that housed exotic plants. He also reshaped the grounds to be similar to the symmetrical patterns that were characteristic of a French garden.

On top of the aforementioned changes and additions, a theater was constructed and the rooms were lavishly decorated.

The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Interior of the Amber Room
Hand-colored photograph of the Amber Room, 1931. (Photo Credit: Branson DeCou / Courtesy Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Of all the rooms in the Charlottenburg Palace, the Amber Room was by far the most impressive, with its amber panels and gold ornamentation. Its construction lasted six years, with it being dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” upon its completion.

The design and construction of the Amber Room was a collaborative effort between Danish amber craftsmen Gottfried Wolfram and Ernst Schacht, with Andreas Schlüter also offering his input. As with the initial construction of the palace, the room came at the request of Sophia Charlotte, who commissioned its creation in 1701.

Peter the Great was enamored with the Amber Room

Portrait of Peter the Great
Peter the Great. (Photo Credit: Jean-Marc Nattier / The Hermitage, St. Petersburg / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Sophia Charlotte was very pleased with the final result and hosted many celebrations at the lavish residence. It was originally named Lietzenburg Palace, but was renamed after the queen following her death.

Following the death of Frederick I of Prussia, his son, Frederick William I, also known as the “Soldier King,” inherited the palace. However, he had no interest in improving the structure or continuing to live the glamorous lifestyle of his parents. He only used the location for state matters and opted to spend money on it only when maintenance was required – he even wrecked the theater built for his mother and used the material to build a school.

While on a visit, Peter the Great of Russia became enamored with the Amber Room. As Frederick William I had no use for it, he decided to gift the room to the Russian tsar. While a kind gesture, it also helped strengthen the bond between the two countries, which was helpful, given their tensions with Sweden.

Shipping the Amber room to Russia

Interior of the replica of the Amber Room
Replica of the Amber Room at the Tsarskoye Selo, 2000. (Photo Credit: Patrick AVENTURIER / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

Now, you might be wondering: just how do you ship an entire room from one country to another? That’s a valid question, and the answer is via 18 large boxes. Once in Russia, the Amber Room was installed in the Winter Palace, but not as somewhere the Royal Family would live. Instead, it was viewed more as an art installation.

In 1755, Elizabeth of Russia, the daughter of Peter the Great, had the Amber Room moved to the Catherine Palace, where it was redesigned by Italian designer Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to fit within its new surroundings. This was the start of a number of renovations to occur in the 18th century, including the installation of additional amber panels, semi-precious stones and gold leaf.

Disappearing during the Second World War

Ceiling of the replica of the Amber Room
Replica of the Amber Room at the Tsarskoye Selo, 2000. (Photo Credit: Patrick AVENTURIER / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

The Russian people treasured the gift of the Amber Room, and the Germans, upon their invasion during the Second World War, intended to take it for themselves. Not wanting the lavish decor to fall into enemy hands, efforts were made to disassemble and hide the room. However, the amber proved too fragile, forcing the Russians to attempt to hide it behind wallpaper.

The Germans weren’t fooled and troops with Army Group North tore down the Amber Room in just 36 hours. It was subsequently shipped to Königsberg, where it was rebuilt and put on displaced in the castle museum. Over the next few years, it sat under the watchful eye of museum director Alfred Rohde, who, in August 1943, was told it was likely best for him to dismantle the room and send it somewhere safe.

The Führer ordered the stolen items in Könisberg to be moved in January 1945, just half a year after the city was fire-bombed by the Allies. It’s unknown if the Amber Room was still standing at this time, and the disorder of the final months of the war meant that no one was sure what happened to the famed treasure.

What happened to the Amber Room?

MV Wilhelm Gustloff docked at port
MV Wilhelm Gustloff, 1939. (Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H27992 / Sönnke, Hans / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

As it hasn’t been seen since World War II, several theories and conspiracies surround just what happened to the Amber Room. In all likelihood, it was destroyed during the Allied air raids in August 1944, but that’s not what some want to believe happened.

Some think it went down with the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German transport ship that was torpedoed and sunk by S-13, a Soviet submarine, in January 1945. Those who reside in Könisberg believe the Red Army found pieces of the Amber Room when they invaded the city later that year and that the discovery was hidden, so that all blame could be placed on the German military.

More from us: Willy-Nicky Telegrams: The Tsar and Kaiser’s Final Attempt to Avert World War I

Regardless of what happened to the Amber Room, this lavish piece of history will forever be the topic of speculation and mystery.

Kate Bulo

Kate Bulo is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News