Man Who Hid Art Loots in Munich Apartment Holds Key to “The Amber Room”?

Cornelius Gurlitt's Name on  a plate on his house in Salzburg, Austria and priceless The Amber Room
Cornelius Gurlitt’s Name on a plate on his house in Salzburg, Austria and priceless The Amber Room

The cache of hidden art found in a dingy Munich flat and said to amount to £1 billion may look like a story right out of the movie scripts.

But how ever the current story seems to extraordinary to its hearers ears, it could get more amazing with this — it had been revealed that the 79-year-old oddball, Cornelius Gurlitt, who had the horde of paintings and had guarded it for long has made claims he knew where the priceless art piece dubbed as “the Eight Wonder of the World” is.

Cornelius Gurlitt reportedly told his family members he knows what happened to the “Amber Room”, the complete chamber decoration made of amber panels and gold Tsar Peter the Great installed in the Summer Palace outside St. Petersburg in the 18th century.

65-year-old Ekkeheart Gurlitt, a resident of Barcelona and a cousin of Cornelius, revealed this bit of information to a news site he spoke to exclusively.

‘He has told us this all his life — “before I die, I will tell the public where it is, but not before”,’ he said.

If this revelation is true, then it would be a more intense and shocking news to the art world compared to the account of the discovery of over 1,500 art pieces in Cornelius’ flat; the existence jut revealed mere days ago, two years after German authorities discovered them after a tax inquisition.

The Story of the Amber Room

The Amber Room before the Nazis looted it looked like picture on the left; image on the right is the original photo The Amber Room's aftermath.
The Amber Room before the Nazis looted it looked like picture on the left; image on the right is the original photo The Amber Room’s aftermath.

The Amber Room is considered to be the world’s most priceless lost artwork after its six tons of amber panels were ravaged by Nazi troops during WWII. As one of the greatest art masterpieces ever done, its worth is estimated to be more than £200 million.

It has been widely believed that the panels had been destroyed in a Konigsberg Castle fire in April 1945 but the this mainly stands on speculations – no actual proof has been found to support it. For the past years, countless investigations about the fate of The Amber Room were done. However, these probes never yielded concrete answers.

The Amber Room was designed by Andreas Schlüter, a German baroque sculptor as well as an architect, and its making was started in 1701. The Amber Room’s original home was Charlottenburg Palace, the Prussian kings’ abode. However, it had the eye of Russia’s Tsar Peter the Great during a state visit.

The Prussian king at that time, Frederick William I, wanted to have a stronger tie with Russia and saw the tsar’s interest in The Amber Room as an avenue for just that. So, he decided to give the room to the Russian monarch as a token of their friendship.

It was shipped to the Winter House in St. Petersburg and afterwards, was installed in the Summer Palace in 1755.

It remained in its location after a few renovations for years until the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and looted the golden-colored panels in 1941.

The Russians did not let go of the beloved chamber artwork easily. They tried to hide it by placing wallpaper over it. However, the flimsy wallpaper proved a little protection against the German troops and when the Nazis discovered it, they tore it down in a matter of 36 hours after which they shipped it to Konigsberg Castle, in Germany’s Baltic Coast, where there, The Amber Room is said to have met its tragic fate.

Alluring Mystery

If what Cornelius Gurlitt claims is true, then the world is faced with the very enticing thought of actually finding out about one of the world’s most treasured art piece.

Gurlitt’s claims are not at all hollow — of course, he has his massive and impressive clandestine art collection to speak for him and the fact that he is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Third Reich’s art dealer, it is really possible that he knows what he is talking about.

However, Cornelius Gurlitt is, at present, missing.

And Ekkeheart, who works as a photographer and who revealed the information to the news site, wouldn’t divulge if he knows about his cousin’s whereabouts or whether he is dead or alive at the moment.

‘I cannot tell you whether he is or not. It may be dangerous for him. If the police know he is alive, then they will come after him,’ he said then added, ‘He has kept everything so secret for so many years. Now we don’t want to put him in danger. We don’t want any gangsters or “art mafia” chasing him.’

When asked if he and the rest of the Gurlitt family knew about their relative’s secret art collection, Ekkeheart admitted that they did.

‘Of course we knew about it. But we kept it secret. We are not animals hungry for money. We do not want to sell our souls for 50 bucks. We are not greedy — we do not want to send him to hell. He has done nothing to us,’ he revealed.

Ekkeheart even went on to say that his father, Dr. Dietrich Gurlitt, a retired geologist for the Gulf Oil firm and who is now 94 years old, had constant communication with Cornelius though he did not reveal if the communication went on for the past two years (the time span from when the German authorities discovered the secret art collection Gurlitt had).

‘My father would wish him Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year, but there was no intensive connection,’ he said.

He also admitted that his father had received art pieces from Cornelius.

‘My father knows nothing about art,’ he quipped. ‘I said to my father, “Look in [your] house! Maybe I will never have to work any more!” ’

However, he says the family does know the origins of these works of art — most had been bought at very cheap prices by Hildebrand, Cornelius’ father, from Jews ho were fleeing Germany.

‘We are not proud of what our family did. These paintings are dirty money. They were stolen by the Nazis.’

Disturbing and strange stories have also circulated among them about their relative, Cornelius.

I’ve been told he’s a pederast,’ says Mr Gurlitt. ‘My father is a doctor, and he didn’t want us to have  contact with strange people with abnormal sexuality. We heard strange stories when we were kids. We therefore didn’t have any intense connection [with Cornelius]. We knew he was a little odd.’

Though he doesn’t know if these strange accounts are true, he does concede that Cornelius, whom he had not met for the past 30 years, is quite an oddball.

‘He’s a little grey man. He was always perfectly dressed like an English gentleman. But he’s mentally in a mess. He’s a very poor sort. For 30 years, he has never let anybody in his apartment,’ he stated.

The Recluse is a Billionaire?

Ekkeheart confessed he has never been in the Munich flat where the £1 billion worth of art pieces were discovered hidden among heaps of rotting food and where Cornelius is purported to have lived for 50 years.

Interestingly enough, news came out earlier this week that the reclusive Gurlitt had a second home in an exclusive Austrian suburb and like his Munich flat, the property is very dilapidated the neighbors see it as an eyesore.

Neighbors of his Austrian suburb property saw Cornelius as a “phantom” and they revealed he has not been seen within it for the past two years; the time span intriguingly coinciding at that point when his hoard of artworks were discovered in his Munich apartment.

A number of locals residing in the area have even opened up to the Mail  their fears that perhaps Cornelius might be dead and is inside the house and they wanted the police to search through the premises. Others also believe the man may have hidden some paintings inside, a second stash of collection much like the one found in Munich.

The Austrian suburb Cornelius have his property in is an area of affluence — it has the former captain of the Austria’s football team, Franz Beckenbauer, as a resident and in fact, Cornelius’ house is only a few hundred yards away from the former abode of the The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family.

However, his property in the area is in a state of deterioration and his neighbors have commented that when Cornelius went there, he treated it as a “bunker” and in spite of the overwhelming worth of money his Munich art stash amounted to, his neighbors only saw him driving an old black VW Beetle around the neighborhood.

Helmut Ludescher, a neighbor who had lived there for quite a long time, commented that Cornelius had stayed in his property for 50 years but he had only spoken to latter only once.

‘He was like a phantom. The only time you ever saw him was when he was driving by in his car, and he didn’t even look left or right. He had a really pale face. We had almost no contact with him,’ he stated then continued saying,

‘Three years ago, I asked him if he was the owner of this house, and he was really grumpy and said “I won’t give you an answer”, got in his car and drove off.’

Mr. Ludescher even added that Cornelius had always looked brooding and was withdrawn; he never saw any friend or relative come and visit the man. He is one of those in the area that believed the man stashed some paintings hidden in the house.

A few people in the neighborhood believed Cornelius’ work was being a painter and pointed out that the only movements they saw inside the house were ‘ghostly’ lights coming from the attic.

They even called the police in 2010 to search the house’s premises because they feared he was dead inside.

In light of the current events that involved their secretive neighbor, that fear had resurfaced.

‘We want a search made. It is possible his body could be in there. When he was here he would keep himself inside as if he had something he wanted to hide,’ said one of the locals.

Nevertheless, with all the going-on involving one member of the family, the Gurlitts remain tight-lipped about their cousin.

‘I think he is the most private art collector in the world. He told people that his father’s collection was destroyed by the Nazis, so that he could have peace for the rest of his life. Maybe he has now committed  suicide because he has no money,’ said Ekkeheart.

Well, if that is the case, then Cornelius have taken to his grave the greatest discoveries the world might have known in years — he has taken with him the secret behind the real whereabouts of one of the world’s most amazing art pieces, The Amber Room.

– The Daily Mail reports




Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE