Priceless jewels swiped in dramatic heist

The perfect crime? Police were alerted to the robbery shortly before 5am on Monday.

Is it wrong to be fascinated by heists? In the dead of night, robbers made away with a £1 billion haul from one of Europe’s most tightly-guarded castles. It’s a drama of Hollywood proportions.

It is the early hours of Monday morning in the German city of Dresden.

Under cover of darkness, the suspects start a small fire at an electrical facility. The blaze shuts down the fire alarms at the nearby Dresden Castle, home of the legendary Grünes Gewölbe — one of Europe’s largest and most valuable jewellery collections.

CCTV captures two men cutting through a fence and smashing a window to gain entrance to the vault. Within minutes, they have carried off more than 100 pieces of 18th-century jewellery.

By the time police arrived, the suspects and their loot were nowhere to be found. They remain at large.

Meanwhile, the people of Dresden have been left shocked by the theft of their richest treasures.

“We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell,” said the director of Dresden’s state art collections, Marion Ackermann. She revealed that the stolen items include three “priceless” sets of diamonds, while local police have released images of a diamond-encrusted sword and historic military medals.

The theft has made headlines around the world. News websites are full of blueprints and maps, as commentators marvel at how the thieves pulled off such an audacious feat.

“It was like a made-for-streaming drama,” writes Frida Ghitis for CNN.

Why are we captivated by such a serious, anti-social crime?

Our fascination with intricately-planned, flawlessly-executed heists is nothing new. In 1963, The Great Train Robbery made an international celebrity of Ronnie Biggs, who escaped prison to live in paradise for 36 years before the law caught up with him.

In 2015, six hardened thieves robbed London’s Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company of £200 million. The story has already been made into three films and a prime-time television series.

In Hollywood, the genre is so well-worn that studios are attempting to reinvent it with a cast of all-female robbers. In the last two years alone, we’ve had Widows, Hustlers and Ocean’s 8.

We wouldn’t praise someone who broke into a house or mugged someone in the street, yet wily heist burglars are elevated to near-mythical antiheroes. Is it wrong to be fascinated by heists?

Criminal minds

Of course not, say some. These are not violent crimes. The best robbers are in and out without anyone noticing. But it’s impossible not to admire their cunning intelligence: carrying off a hoard of priceless jewels is not easy. It must be planned in minute detail by a true mastermind. There is a certain perverse bravery to these heists that captivates the imagination.

But others say we must heed the words of Justice Edmund Davies, who sentenced Ronnie Biggs: “Let us clear out of the way any romantic notions of daredevilry. This is nothing less than a sordid crime of violence inspired by vast greed.” Yesterday, the leader of Saxony said that the entire state is bereft, robbed of its history. These crimes have real victims. It is a failure of empathy to idolise the perpetrators.

You Decide

  1. Do you have any admiration for thieves who pull off heists?
  2. Who are the victims of a museum robbery?

Activities

  1. How would you pull off a heist? Draw up a plan, with a detailed diagram.
  2. Is it wrong to watch true crime? Divide into teams and hold a class debate.

Some People Say...

“There’s a difference between criminals and crooks. Crooks steal. Criminals blow some guy’s brains out. I’m a crook.”

Ronnie Biggs (1929-2013), British train robber

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Grünes Gewölbe is one of the oldest museums in Europe, founded by the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong in 1723. Many of its most valuable treasures, including a 63.8cm figure of a Moor studded with emeralds and a 547.71-carat sapphire gifted by Tsar Peter I of Russia, were untouched by the robbers.
What do we not know?
What will happen to the jewels. Some experts fear that the thieves will melt down and disassemble the centuries-old pieces to try to cash in on their raw value. The stolen items now may be too recognisable to sell on in their historic state.

Word Watch

Dresden
Famed for its museums and classical architecture, Dresden was rebuilt exactly as it was after being fire-bombed in World War Two.
Grünes Gewölbe
“Green Vault” in German.
At large
A phrase meaning that they have not been captured.
Audacious
Bold; brave.
Great Train Robbery
Some £2.6 million was taken from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London, on 8 August 1963.
Hatton Garden
The crime became famed as the Hatton Garden heist. It was the biggest robbery in English legal history.
Prime-time
The time, usually in the evening, when a TV audience is expected to be largest.
Wily
Sneaky; good at taking advantage of a situation.
Antiheroes
A central character in a story, who does not have typically heroic attributes — like strong morals, or a caring nature.
Saxony
A state in Eastern Germany.
Bereft
Deprived; lacking (something).
Empathy
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

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