I’m always looking for something a little bit different when I’m travelling and a small insert for an Amber Museum (free entry) in the Nuremberg guide piques my interest. According to the information it is located on one of the main shopping streets of the city but when I arrive at the address I find a shop selling mobile phones. Confused, I check the address again and then check the neighbouring buildings before I see a small sign in a window with another address for the museum. I locate it on my map and set off across the city to find it.
The new location for the museum is in a residential area and despite seeing signs in the windows, I am a little nervous about ringing the bell of the door inside the apartment building. A pleasant young man opens the door and warmly welcomes me into what appears to be a shop, and indeed is a shop, but then we go through to another room where I am introduced to Horst.
Horst immediately launches into a well prepared speech about his amber treasure trove which he has been collecting for the last 27 years. Luckily his English is good and he explains how amber can be found in up to 400 colours and tones; white, cream, green, blue, black, red and yellow as well as the typical cognac colour. He has amber carved pieces shaped like animals, made into beads for necklaces and used to decorate jewellery boxes and clocks.
Amber is millions of years old, created by the resin from trees which has fossilised over time. It is found in several places in the world but most commercial amber comes from the Baltic area in the former East Prussia. I ask how I can know if the amber is real or not, given the Chinese penchant for creating cheap look-a-like jewellery. Horst demonstrates by showing me two pieces and then placing them in salt water. The real amber floats while the fake one sinks. Ironically, it is the Chinese who are his biggest customers, seeking the more ancient and unusual pieces. Especially prized are the pieces containing inclusions of insects or vegetation but only one piece in one thousand contains an inclusion.
One of the biggest creations in amber was the Amber Room, originally built in Potsdam but then moved to Konigsberg when Peter the Great bought it from Frederick William I in exchange for 55 soldiers. It has been missing since WWII when it was stolen by the Nazis, but luckily a reproduction has been constructed in The Catherine Palace of St Petersburg, based on photographs of the original.
Behind Horst is the largest piece in his collection, weighing over 12 kg. It’s not particularly pretty and although I’m curious as to its worth, I’m too embarrassed to ask. Before I leave, Horst is keen to show me some more of his collection, including a piece which he thinks looks like Charles de Gaulle with a big nose and another with features of a bottom. He may be a cheeky old man but he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to amber.