Dresden Green Vault Burglary

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Podcast transcript

In the early morning of November 29, 2019, a team of thieves broke into the Green Vault Museum in Dresden, Germany

Their target was jeweled treasures of Saxony which were some of the most valuable gems in Europe. 

In under an hour, they had left with items that were worth a staggering sum of money.

Learn more about the Dresden Green Vault Burglary, the greatest heist in world history, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

Before we get into details about the Dresden Green Vault Burglary, it is probably necessary to explain exactly what the Dresden Green Vault is and why someone would want to break into it. 

The Dresden Green Vault is, as the name would suggest, in Dresden, Germany. 

Dresden is the capital of the German state of Saxony. 

For the purpose of this episode, the story begins in the early 18th century with the ruler of Saxony, Augustus II the Strong.  Augustus was, as his name would imply, strong.  He was known as the “the Saxon Hercules” and he reportedly could bend horseshoes with his bare hands. 

Augustus held the titles of the King of Poland, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and the Elector of Saxony. Electors were the people who selected the Holy Roman Emperor. It was an extremely important title and one that I will probably do an episode on in the future. 

He ruled from Dresden Castle. Within the castle was a vault that had been built in 1547 by a previous Elector of Saxony. The vault was built to house all of the treasures of the castle, primarily jewelry and documents.

It became known as the Green Vault because of the coloring used tops and bottoms in some of the first rooms you would enter. 

In 1723, Augustus the Strong converted the vault into a museum to showcase to the public the treasures that it held. 

Depending on how you date the opening of the Vatican Museum, it is either the oldest or second oldest museum in the world. 

If you know anything about Dresden, you probably know that it was almost totally destroyed from allied bombing in World War II. 

Prior to the bombing, all of the treasures from the Green Vault were moved out of the city, and during the bombing of February 13, 1945, 3 of the 8 rooms in the vault were destroyed. 

The Soviets confiscated all of the treasured in 1945 but returned them in 1958. In addition, the entire vault building was rebuilt. 

Just as an aside, Dresden is a really interesting city. If you didn’t know it had been destroyed beforehand, you’d probably never guess it.  It was rebuilt to look almost exactly as it did before. 

I also realized in the course of doing research for this episode, that I had in fact been to the Green Vault in Dresden back in 2011. Definitely worth seeing if you happen to visit. 

So, to summarize, the Dresden Green Vault is one of the oldest museums in the world, and it housed many priceless artifacts pertaining to the history of the region. 

The heist took place on the morning of November 25, 2019.  

The first thing they did was start a fire on the nearby Augustus bridge, which is located right in front of the museum, and which crosses the Elbe River. The fire started at 4am. 

The fire was set such that it knocked out the main power to the museum. All of the nearby streetlights were disabled as were the museum alarms. However, a backup power supply did manage to keep the closed-circuit TV cameras inside the museum functioning. 

They gained access to the museum by cutting through the bars over a window. The bars actually created a sort of fence around the window, so there were several that they had to cut. If you look at the image of the cut bars, they only create a very small hole which would have been difficult for any adult to get through. 

From there, they smashed the safety glass in the window and climbed through. 

They clearly knew what they were doing as they headed directly to a particular display case and smashed the glass protecting it with an ax. 

Their targets were three sets of jewelry dating back to the 18th century. 

Two security guards witnessed the robbers, but they were unarmed and by protocol, weren’t allowed to confront them. They called the police at 4:56 am. 

The thieves then emptied two fire extinguishers into the room which was probably done to hide any evidence they might have left.

The thieves then slipped out of the museum the same way they came in and replaced the bars on the window to delay detection. 

They then sped away in a blue Audi S6, which was captured on camera. The Audi was later found in a Dresden parking garage burned out, and it turned out the blue color was a wrapper put on the car. 

So, what did they get away with?

Well, it turns out, quite a bit. 

One of the items was a breastpin called the Star of the Order of the White Eagle. The Order of the White Eagle was a chivalric order created by Augustus II. The item is encrusted with diamonds, as well as rubies, gold, and silver. 

Another item was a sword made of silver with a hilt that was encrusted with over 770 diamonds. 

A shoulder piece that contains the 50-carat Dresden white diamond. 

In total, 21 items were taken that had a total of over 4,300 encrusted diamonds. 

The total fair market value of everything stolen was estimated to be €1billion. 

The police showed up only minutes after the robbers had left. The investigation into the heist began immediately. 

One of the things which stuck out was the robbery seemed to be very similar to a robbery that occurred in 2017 at the Bode Museum in Berlin. There, the thieves stole a giant gold Maple Leaf coin about the size of a tire that was created by the Canadian Mint in 2007. 

Three men were caught and convicted in conjunction in the 2017 Maple Leaf heist. They were all members of the Berlin Remmo crime family.

The Remmo crime family are sort of like the German equivalent of the Mafia, but instead of having migrated from Sicily, they migrated from Northern Lebanon. 

In March 2020, the police announced that they thought there were seven people involved in the robbery. 

On November 17, 2020, 1,638 police conducted raids in Berlin resulting in the arrests of three members of the Remmo Crime Family. One of the men was a suspect in the 2017 robbery of the giant gold coin in Berlin.

In December 2020, a fourth arrest was made. 

In May 2021 they arrested a fifth suspect, and in September they arrested his twin brother. 

The six men range in age from 21 to 27 and are all in custody now awaiting trial. 

In January 2020, supposedly an offer was made on the dark web to sell several of the items for €9 million. It was far below what it was probably worth, but it also reflected the problem with stealing historical objects. They are almost impossible to fence because everyone knows they are stolen. 

To date, no one has been able to verify if the offer was legit. 

It is believed that the reason why they went after jewels is that they can easily be taken apart and sold individually, which makes them all but impossible to trace back. The same reason the giant gold coin was stolen in 2017.

This is one of the reasons why there are so few art heists. Even if you manage to pull off the robbery, what do you do with it? Despite what you see on movies and television, there isn’t a huge market of millionaires who want to buy stolen art. 

One of the interesting things about the heist is that several items inside the display case weren’t taken simply because they were sewn in place. The extra effort required to remove them made them not worth taking. 

Since the robbery, there has been a reassessment of security in both the Green Vault Museum and in other museums around the world. It was a shock to many museums just how easily so much was taken so quickly. 

As of my recording of this episode, none of the items taken have been recovered. 

Based on the value of what was stolen, the Dresden Green Vault Burglary remains the largest heist in history.

Everything Everywhere Daily is an Airwave Media Podcast. 

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett. 

Today’s review comes from listener Peppery1 on Apple Podcasts in the United States. They write:

Fab quick podcast

I love this show! It is a nice palate cleanser after listening to a depressing news podcast. My kids like it also- it is lighthearted and engaging. I also reallly like when it’s sponsored by audible- I appreciate Gary’s book recs related to the topic he is discussing.

Thank you, Peppery1! I will definitely pass this on to the powers that be over at Audible. Hopefully, they will take your words to heart. 

Remember, if you leave a review or send in a question, you too can have it read on the show.