It was one of the most spectacular, most impudent burglaries in recent decades — a worst-case scenario not only for Dresden, fondly known as “Florence on the Elbe,” but for the entire state of Saxony’s cultural heritage. In November 2019, burglars used brute force to steal valuables from the city’sHistoric Green Vault. The jewel collection, which belongs to the Dresden State Art Collections, is one of the most famous collections in Germany. The suspected robbers, members of a Berlin clan, were apprehended and their trial started on January 28.
Gems of immeasurable value
In the early morning hours of November 25, 2019, several men forced their way into the Historic Green vault through a barred window. They used brutal force, apparently without any respect for art, which was particularly astonishing.
Within minutes, they had smashed a glass display case with an axe and stolen about a dozen pieces of three historic sets of jewels from the era of Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), including the “Saxon White,” a 48-carat white diamond.
Investigations took a turn after a year in mid-November 2020 when the task force codenamed “Epaulette” convicted members of the Remmo clan, one of Berlin’s most notorious gangs, after a major raid that involved about 1,600 police officers.
Three clan members suspected of the Dresden theft were arrested; police next nabbed twin brothers, also members of the clan, and the sixth and final suspect, Ahmed Remmo, was arrested on August 19, 2021. Ahmed Remmo was already convicted in 2020 for a burglary at the Berlin Bode Museum.
Where is the loot?
The whereabouts of the priceless jewels remain unclear, and alleged tips have come to nothing. The jewel sets were among the special attractions of the Green Vault, including royal diamond jewelry, a breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, and a diamond-studded rapier.
“I could hardly believe it at first, because not long ago, the Green Vault was beautifully restored at great expense,” said Ulli Seegers, an art historian who used to run the German branch of the Art Loss Register, right after the theft, adding it was a “treasure trove of world cultural heritage.” “It is really an immense loss, a treasure that is probably irretrievably lost,” she told DW.
The expert was not optimistic about finding the gems, either. “Due to my experience in the international art market in the field of art crime, the probability that the jewel sets in their original form will reappear at some point is rather low.” She said the thieves might very well destroy what is a unique cultural treasure and break it up into individual parts.
Safety standards in museums
Seegers felt sure the “treasure chamber met the international safety standards due to the aforementioned restoration,” but that they apparently were not sufficient after all. One should not forget, she said, that “museums are not maximum security” sites.
The Dresden theft was “a huge loss for mankind,” said Stephan Zilkens, arguing, however, that the Green Vault could have protected itself from a total loss. If the jewels could be sold without restriction and were not affected by the Cultural Property Protection Act — neither of which is the case, — an auction could fetch anywhere between €150 million ($168 million) and 200 million, the insurance expert told DW.
Green Vault, a ‘state treasure’
The Green Vault in Dresden is one of the most famous museums in Germany. The rooms in the historic building date back to the 16th century. In 1723, the Saxon Elector and Polish King August the Strong had a treasure chamber built there. After extensive renovation and restoration work, that treasure chamber was moved back to Dresden’s Residence Palace in 2006.
After the reopening, it was proudly presented to the public. Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a tour in 2006 and former US President Barack Obama took a tour during his visit to Germany in 2009.
Today, the jewel collections are presented in two sections, a historical section on the first floor of the Residence Palace in the eight authentically restored rooms. The New Green Vault displays special individual pieces on the second floor. Some rooms were decorated with malachite-green paint — thus the name.
This article was originally written in German.