Early Monday morning thieves broke into the Dresden Royal Palace's famed Green Vault (Grüne Gewölbe) and stole precious jewels in what could be Europe's biggest museum heist ever.
After a suspicious fire cut off electricity to the area of the German museum, two thieves with axes entered through a window, taking a confirmed ten treasures (less than originally thought) worth perhaps $1 billion. Several pieces had been collected by Saxony’s 18th-century ruler, Augustus the Strong.
Police released dramatic CCTV footage of the suspects. Video shows the men smashing a display case to grab the diamonds.
Germany’s culture minister, Monika Grütters, said the theft was “appalling and shocking.” She added, “This robbery of pieces which define our identity as a nation of culture breaks our hearts.”
Museum officials are hoping the jewels are not broken apart to sell separately and parts melted down. “We hope that their international fame will preclude their being offered on the market,” said Marion Ackermann, director of Dresden State Art Collection, to the press.
Green Vault director Dirk Syndram warned that it would be “stupid" to break apart the jewels for resale. Adding, "They’re all 18-century cuts. You can’t just turn these stones into cash."
The thieves reportedly sped away in an Audi A6, possibly escaping on the autobahn before the police arrived within 5 minutes of the crime. A burning car was found, but not the suspects.
Since 1724, the Grüne Gewölbe (Green Vault) has been a popular tourist attraction. During the devastating bombing of Dresden by British and American forces in World War II, the building sustained heavy damage. A 2006 renovation reopened the palace's Green Vault as an international destination for dazzling cultural treasures.
The Green Vault's lauded Dresden Green Diamond and other signature treasures are currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the exhibition Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe.