German police say thieves on the run after cultural treasures stolen from Green Vault
Thieves in the German city of Dresden have broken into one of Europes largest collections of art treasures, making off with three sets of 18th-century jewellery of immeasurable worth in what German media has described as the biggest such theft since the second world war.
The dramatic heist took place at dawn on Monday, after a fire broke out at an electrical distribution point nearby, deactivating the museums alarm and plunging the area into darkness.
Despite the power cut, a surveillance camera filmed two men breaking into the Grne Gewlbe (Green Vault) at Dresdens Royal Palace.
Volker Lange, the head of Dresden police, said the thieves smashed a window and cut through a fence before approaching and breaking open a display cabinet in the Grne Gewlbes Jewel Room in a targeted manner.
Officers were at the scene within minutes of being alerted to the robbery shortly before 5am local time, but the suspects had escaped. A burning car found in Dresden early on Monday may have been the getaway vehicle, police said. They have set up roadblocks on motorway approach roads around the city in an attempt to prevent the suspects from leaving.
German media reported the losses from the burglary could run into the high hundreds of millions of euros, but the director of Dresdens state art collections, Marion Ackermann, said it was impossible to estimate the value of the items.
We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell, she said, appealing to the thieves not to break the collections into pieces. The material value doesnt reflect the historic meaning.
Ackermann said the stolen items included three priceless sets of diamonds, including brilliant-cut diamonds which belonged to an 18th-century collection of jewellery assembled by the museums founder.
Created by Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony, in 1723, the Grne Gewlbe is one of 12 museums which make up the famous Dresden state art collections. It got its name because some rooms were decorated with malachite-green paint.
One of the oldest museums in Europe, the Grne Gewlbe holds treasures including a 63.8cm figure of a Moor studded with emeralds and a 547.71-carat sapphire gifted by Tsar Peter I of Russia.
The museum is now made up of two sections, one historic and a newer part. It was the historic section, which contains around three-quarters of the museums treasures, that was broken into on Monday.
With a strict limit on the number of daily visitors, entrance to the historic vault must be reserved in advance. Exhibits are arranged into nine rooms, including an ivory room, a silver gilt room and the central Hall of Treasures.
Michael Kretschmer, the leader of Saxony, of which Dresden is the capital, said he was devastated by the losses. Not only the gallery has been robbed, but also the Saxonians, he said. You cannot understand the history of our country, or the free state of Saxony without the Grne Gewlbe and the state art collections of Saxony.