Forest treasure hunt has silver lining

Saving the family heirlooms: German count unearths collection buried 50 years ago
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The Independent Online

When the Russians were advancing on 16-year-old Count Alexander zu Lynar-Redern's home in 1945, he vowed not to allow them to destroy everything. He buried the family heirlooms in a forest near his East German home, before fleeing to north Germany with his mother, Princess Victoria.

Half a century later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Count Alexander returned to his hometown, 50 kilometres north-east of Berlin, and regained the family silver. A successful treasure hunt meant the count was able to retrieve the collection - including a 120-piece Odiot silver service - last year.

He said yesterday: "It's like a dream to find it again. It was the first time we had been in the forest since we buried the collection 50 years ago."

Although his 300-year-old family estate Gorlsdorf had been destroyed by the Russians in 1945, the count was able to find the treasure because of a map of the forest he had drawn up when he buried it, and with the help of Gregory Mills, an excavation expert. Mr Mills said: "We located the forest to within 100 metres, working out if the treasure was there, it would be in that area. It was out in the middle of the countryside but there was 50 years of vegetation on top of it. But once we located the first piece of china, it took about an hour-and-a-half to find everything else."

Harry Charteris, Sotheby's specialist in European silver, is convinced of the collection's value. "It's a remarkable find because a lot of the silver is the kind you could find in any nobleman's house in pre-war Germany. But to get a whole service is very rare," he said.

The count now plans to sell the collection at two Sotheby's sales. The Odiot silver will be sold in Geneva on 13 May, and the remainder in London on 30 May. The count, who missed out on National Service because of hepatitis, plans to keep only a few items "of sentimental value". The proceeds, estimated at about pounds 150,000, will be divided among a group of heirs in the zu Lynar- Redern family.