Treasure hunters in Germany claim they have found hidden gold in an underground cavern that they are almost certain contains the Amber Room treasure, believed by some to have been stashed away by the Nazis in a secret mission in the dying days of World War II.
The discovery of an estimated two tonnes of gold was made at the weekend when electromagnetic pulse measurements located the man-made cavern 20 meters underground near the village of Deutschneudorf on Germany's border with the Czech Republic.
The team, which used heavy digging equipment, hasn't been inside the room but analysis of the electromagnetic test has led it to believe that the cavern contains gold.
"I'm well over 90 percent sure we have found the Amber Room," the mayor of Deutschneudorf, Heinz-Peter Haustein, who led the search, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The chamber is likely to be part of a labyrinth of storage rooms that the Nazis built here. I knew it was in this area. I just never knew exactly where."
Haustein, 53, is a member of Germany's federal parliament for the opposition liberal Free Democrats and has been searching for the Amber Room in the Ore Mountain region of eastern Germany for a decade.
"A friend told me before he died that the Nazis sent truckloads and trainloads of valuables to this area throughout the spring of 1945," he said. The excavation site is next to a long-abandoned railway station.
He said the coordinates for the chamber had come from fellow treasure hunter Christian Hanisch, who had found them when he was going through the documents of his father, a Luftwaffe signaller, after he died in October.
"There was a note written next to the coordinates that the site contained Nazi party gold in 12-kilo bars. If the gold is there, the Amber Room will be too," said Haustein. He said he had dug in exactly the same spot a year ago but had not conducted any electromagnetic tests that time.
Haustein said it would probably take him until Easter to get into the chamber because it may contain booby traps and has to be secured by explosives experts and engineers.
"This has got too risky for us to do it alone. There could be mines down there." He said the regional authorities had agreed to help with the excavation.
The Amber Room, made of amber panels backed with gold leaf, was created by German and Russian craftsmen in the early 18th century and given by Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm I to his Russian ally Czar Peter the Great in 1716.
In October 1941, four months after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they disassembled it from the Catherine Palace near what was then Leningrad and brought it to East Prussia, to Königsberg -- now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Part of it was exhibited in Königsberg Castle during the war. It disappeared in 1945.
There have been hundreds of theories about its fate. Some historians claim it was destroyed in bombing raids on Königsberg, others that it was lost at sea.
Over the years, various searches have failed to uncover it. Haustein said he had received many leads over the years that the Amber Room was hidden in crates along with a trove of other treasures somewhere in the network of copper, tin and silver mines of the Ore Mountains along what is now the German-Czech border.
He has spent tens of thousands of euros of his own money on the hunt.
"If we find the treasure it will probably be declared the property of the Federal Republic of Germany as legal successor to the Third Reich," said Haustein.
"It would be good if the state could hand it over to the Russians without preconditions and if the Russians could then hand over the art they looted from Germany. That would be a sign of national reconciliation. That's my goal."
Haustein he had received hundreds of emails in recent days since the find had become public, including some from Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, where many Nazis fled after the war.
One email he received on Tuesday contained a claim far-fetched enough to be amusing. "It said that the Nazis burnt a doppelgänger of Hitler outside the Berlin bunker and that the body of the real Hitler was buried with the Amber Room," Haustein says. "So who knows what else we may find?"