Posted Tuesday, September 28, 1999

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 The Times

September 28 1999

Berliners open treasure chest of evil



THEY arrive in their hundreds, treasure-hunters in the hope of finding looted art, neo-Nazis treating their visit to the ruins 45 miles from Berlin like a pilgrimage - all of them drawn to Karinhall, the holiday home of Hermann Goering.

At the zenith of the Third Reich, Karinhall was the most ostentatious of the homes owned by the Nazi elite. Named after Goering's first wife, Karin von Kantzow, who died in 1931, the building was designed in the style of a hunting lodge, but it was ridiculously out of proportion, the size of a small palace, with every wall bedecked with trophies bagged in the surrounding woods.

It was here that Goering, then the Luftwaffe chief, one-time Führer-in-waiting and the second-most powerful individual on the continent of Europe, lived out his fantasy life as a medieval prince, surrounded by treasures looted from conquered territories. If only fantasies were all that were played out at Karinhall. It was here, too, that Goering plotted the formation of the Gestapo, the logistics of the persecution of the Jews and the bombing of Coventry.

Nevertheless, it was the spoils of war that gave Goering the most pleasure. To Karinhall went plundered Flemish tapestries, stolen Rembrandts, irreplaceable chalices, altarpieces and rare manuscripts that constituted the greatest art collection in the world. When the Second World War ended, the Russians overran Karinhall and Goering cheated the hangman at Nuremberg by swallowing a phial of cyanide hidden in his teeth. Most of the treasures had been sent to a salt mine in Austria, where the Americans found them. It was presumed that what was left went to feed the ego of Josef Stalin.

Before the Red Army arrived, Goering ordered the destruction of Karinhall, but it was carried out only hastily. The Russians destroyed the rest, leaving the ruins to nature and relative isolation in a secluded part of what was the former East Germany.

That might have been that, with Karinhall left, forgotten, in the past, but interest in it has been renewed by a book published this year and during the summer the treasure-hunters have arrived each weekend, equipped with metal detectors, to sift through the ruins.

"I am no Nazi, I even read the Neue[s] Deutschland," Hans-Peter Shulz said defensively, mentioning the name of a left-liberal newspaper, "but my wife and I have been here four times, looking around, drinking in the atmosphere, hoping to find something. Last time I found an original rooftile and the time before that a cup hidden beneath a bush with part of a Luftwaffe motif on it. He might have even used it once.

"You see many people, most of them older men, but some younger ones, too. The voices from the Nazi past speak to you here. I don't know if anyone has found anything of great value, but, well, you never know."

"The rumours are, of course, of gold plates and silver chalices and jewellery being buried in the woods," Klaus Schwanke said. "That's the lure of coming here for me. It might be better odds than the Lotto."

Invariably, the treasure-hunters who flock to Karinhall have a copy of the new book, Goering's Reich, tucked under their arms, but it is not the harmless hobbyists who perturb the authorities in Berlin, the capital that Goering once boasted would never endure an allied bomb - it is the far Right, members of whom are showing a disturbing interest in the place. Hitler's bunker was filled in and covered over to prevent it becoming a shrine for neo-Nazis; the same fate befell Spandau jail when its last occupant, Rudolf Hess, died. The ruin of Karinhall is one of the few touchstones of evil left to the fanatics.

Volker Knopf, the author, was there on January 12 this year, Goering's birthday, and saw an eerie sight. "There were dozens of candles burning on the foundation stones that spelt out the entrance to the inner courtyard of Karinhall. This is the other side of the history hunters."

A spokesman for Berlin police said: "When this was in the East, it was not a problem, and indeed we have no problem with treasure-hunters. We will not tolerate it becoming an illegal meeting place for Nazis. To that end, we are seeking ways of making the land private and off-limits for most of the year and for anyone who has a legitimate historical interest to gain a permit to visit the site."

AN HISTORIC building near Berlin [Website: presumably the Cäcilienhof] was destroyed at the weekend, police believe by arsonists. The villa at Potsdam, where allied leaders met in July and August 1945 to determine the future of Europe, was wrecked by a fire that caused damage worth £350,000.

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