Search for Nazi loot under way in Germany

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German treasure hunters began drilling into a hillside near the Czech border on Tuesday in the hope of finding priceless loot hidden by the Nazis.

27 February 2008

DEUTSCHNEUDORF, Germany - German treasure hunters began drilling into a hillside near the Czech border on Tuesday in the hope of finding priceless loot hidden by the Nazis.

A team headed by Heinz-Peter Haustein suspects crates of gold and silver are stored in an underground chamber near the small town of Deutschneudorf, 200 kilometres south of the capital Berlin.

Haustein, who is the local mayor, believes the search could reveal parts of the fabled Amber Room, carved panels of golden resin backed with gold leaf and mirrors that were snatched by the Nazis from Russia in 1941.

The treasure hunters drilled the first of 12 holes into the ground, but instead of striking gold they hit a vein of water that shot out of one of the 10m deep cavities.

"Don't worry, we'll find something," said the mayor, adding that the excavation work could take three or four days.

It the drilling shows up a hidden chamber, the searchers will first lower a camera down to search for traces of any loot.

Preliminary examinations using electronic sensors and geologists' measuring devices indicated that precious metals were in the ground.

Haustein said he had received a tip-off about the site from a man from the north of Germany who had family connections to someone who knew where the Nazis hid their treasures.

The site is one of around 100 where parts of the Amber Room have been suspected over the past decades.

The original Amber Room was commissioned by Frederick 1 of Prussia and presented as a gift to Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1716.

It decorated Catherine Palace near St Petersburg until it was seized by the Nazis two years after the start of World War II and taken in crates to a castle near what is now the Russian city of Kaliningrad.

No trace of it has been found since.

A reconstructed Amber Room was inaugurated in Catherine Palace in 2003.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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