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Russia dazzles Germans with Trojan spoils: Schliemann treasure viewed

WHEN KLAUS Goldmann finally saw the glittering treasures of Troy they were more fabulous than even he had imagined. 'It was overwhelming,' he said, still trembling with excitement. 'I had seen photographs and copies, but nothing prepared me for the originals. The detail was incredible; the craftsmanship unimaginable. Holding them in my hands, I was suddenly transported back to antiquity.'

Mr Goldmann has spent more than 20 years hunting for the magnificent collection of gold and jewellery discovered by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann at the site of ancient Troy in 1873. As the curator of the Museum of Pre- and Early History in Berlin, he had a strong motive.

Until the Second World War, the Trojan treasures, originally thought to have been those of King Priam, were the museum's prize exhibit. In 1945, however, they disappeared, presumed by most to have been taken as war booty by the victorious Red Army.

On Monday afternoon, Mr Goldmann and two of his Berlin colleagues became the first Germans to see the Schliemann collection since the war. Piece by dazzling piece, it was shown to them in a small room tucked away up a little-used staircase in Moscow's Pushkin Museum. Although the Russians had already owned up to having it, this was the final, incontrovertible proof.

In the two days that Mr Goldmann and his colleagues spent in the Pushkin Museum they were able to examine all the main pieces of the Schliemann treasure, which had been carefully itemised and packed away in crates at the outbreak of war in 1939.

In addition to the spectacular golden head-dresses, they were able to scrutinise the full range of rings, bracelets, necklaces and goblets unearthed by Schliemann. With their white surgical gloves they were able to feel their considerable weight; with their magnifying glasses and microscopes they were able to marvel at the detail. 'It was all even more sensational than we had expected,' said Mr Goldmann. 'And the Russians had not spoilt the gold by trying to polish it all up. It was exactly as Schliemann found it: some of the objects still had the red soil of Troy on them.'

This week's visit to the Pushkin Museum marked an important breakthrough in Germany's and Russia's joint efforts to come clean about the tens of thousands of art works plundered from each other in the Second World War.

According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bonn, moreover, it would be a 'stepping stone' towards the eventual goal of handing them all back.

At the moment, there is little prospect of that. Although the Russians have begun to admit to what they plundered, there is still stiff resistance to the idea of returning it. This stems from a popular view that the stolen art works were justifiable spoils of war, and the fact that, whereas Russia is sitting on plenty of treasures taken from Germany, most of those plundered by the Nazis have either been returned already or disappeared into private collections after the war.

The dream swap would be the Trojan treasures for the Amber Room, the unique collection of amber wall panels and furnishings that was removed by the Nazis from a palace just outside St Petersburg in 1941 and which disappeared four years later from what was then Konigsberg in East Prussia. With no sighting yet of the Amber Room, such a prospect appears slim. And there is a further problem concerning ownership rights. Although Schliemann himself bequeathed the treasures to the Museum of Pre- and Early History, Turkey claims that it has a right to them because they were discovered on its territory.

(Photograph omitted)