Solid Gold Caldron Revives Mystery
Of Hidden Nazi Gold
By David Crossland

BERLIN (Reuters) - A mysterious golden caldron found in a Bavarian lake has rekindled a decades-old fascination with Nazi gold believed hidden in the Alps.

The Bavarian government said this week it was claiming ownership of the 23-pound, solid gold vessel found by an amateur diver last year at the bottom of Lake Chiemsee, a tourist destination 40 miles southeast of Munich.

Archeologists have said the caldron, adorned with a relief of mythical Celtic and Indo-Germanic figures, may have been made by the Nazis, who drew heavily on ancient mythology and hero worship.

The "Chiemsee Caldron" is estimated to be worth $100,000 based on the weight of its gold, has a diameter of 20 inches and is 12 inches high.

Exclusive television footage of it broadcast Wednesday night showed it decorated inside and out with a relief of deities, creatures and other mythical symbols including a crescent moon attached to a man's head.

Archeologists in Munich at first thought the pot was a genuine Celtic artifact but on closer inspection concluded it was made in the 20th century, probably during the Nazi era in the late 1930s.

They said it bears a resemblance to the Gundestrup caldron, found in a Danish bog in 1891 and believed to be more than 2,000 years old.

Government spokesman Bernd Schreiber said he was aware the growing media coverage could lure treasure-hunters to the Alps which the Nazis saw as their last bastion, and which became the destination for gold shipments from Berlin in the dying days of the Third Reich.

"But the chances of finding anything else are extraordinarily slim. The lakes have already been searched for munitions, and any finds have to be registered with authorities," Schreiber said.

If the Chiemsee Caldron does turn out to be a Nazi artifact then it will belong to Bavaria, according to post-war de-Nazification laws enacted by the Allied powers, the Bavarian Finance Ministry said.

And even if it is not, and the owner cannot be traced, Bavaria still has 50 percent ownership rights as it owns the Chiemsee, the ministry said. The diver who found it would get half.

Ludwig Wamser, director of the Munich museum examining the find, told German television there may be a link between the caldron and a giant university the Nazis had planned to build on the shore of the Chiemsee to propagate their ideology.

The existence of Nazi gold dumped in lakes and hidden in mountains is part of Alpine lore in Germany and Austria.

Billions of dollars' worth of gold, much of it robbed from Jews killed in concentration camps, diamonds and foreign currency was transported to the Alps which fanatical Nazis saw as a fortress that would become the nucleus of a "Fourth Reich."

Only a fraction of that treasure was ever found, and much of it is believed to have been dumped into mountain lakes in Germany and Austria.

There are official records to document one shipment worth 300 million marks of gold taken from the Reichsbank in Berlin in April 1945 and driven to Bavaria on Adolf Hitler's orders as the capital was falling to the Russians.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 1998 quoted a secret account by a senior Reichsbank cashier who accompanied 365 sacks with bars of gold from Berlin to Bavaria in a convoy of trucks.

The treasure was buried in a field near the Walchensee, a few miles from the Austrian border. U.S. forces found and moved the treasure in the summer of 1945 but its whereabouts remain a mystery.

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