Rumours of hidden Nazi gold draw treasure hunters to the Bavarian Alps


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  • Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

Haf has spent his whole life in the German town of Pfronten, which attracts hunters hoping to find treasure hidden by the Nazis. Photos: dpa

Whoever broke into the Bavarian barn was persistent, at least, even if they didn't know their history. The barn, in the village of Pfronten, Germany was broken into several times within a few weeks by people hunting for hidden Nazi gold.

"They moved all the stuff to the side, tore up the floor and started digging," says Hubert Haf. "They just found rocks though. The barn was only built in 1975."

Haf, 82, has spent his whole life in Pfronten, which borders Austria, and ran a grocery shop there for 30 years. The town gets plenty of tourists keen to visit the ruins of Falkenstein Castle as well as hunters hoping to find treasure hidden by the Nazis.

The latest attempt to find such rumoured goodies led unknown persons to drive an excavator deep into a forest to a steep drop, where they dug away until disaster threatened. They fled, leaving behind the digger and a pile of earth. Cleaning that up is likely to cost several thousand euros, says Richard Noess, a town councillor.

The rumour that Nazi gold is hidden in the castle ruins has persisted for decades, even though no one has ever found anything.

One of the tales of gold hidden at Falkenstein Castle suggests that the Nazi SS special police force closed off the site from Oct 1944 until March 1945. There is also a tale that gold was brought from Munich to Kempten in early 1945, where its trail ends.

Legends of hidden gold are also associated with King Ludwig II, who bought the ruined Falkenstein Castle in 1883 to create a romantic fairy tale castle there similar to Neuschwanstein Castle. The king is rumoured to have brought royal gold in a carriage up to the site.

"There really aren't any concrete references or anything that credibly suggests that any such treasure exists," Noess says.Rubble covers a slope in Bavaria where treasure hunters looking for rumoured Nazi gold dug up the earth with an excavator before running off.Rubble covers a slope in Bavaria where treasure hunters looking for rumoured Nazi gold dug up the earth with an excavator before running off.

But that isn't stopping anyone.

Another spot that repeatedly draws treasure hunters in southern Germany is Alatsee Lake, close to Neuschwanstein Castle.

"No other lake in Germany has so many lies written about it," says Magnus Peresson, who heads the Alt Fuessen local heritage society.

People insist that gold that belonged to the Rothschild family could be hidden there, partly because the Alatsee Lake was a prohibited area from 1938 to 1958, first as the Nazis carried out tests, and later after the Allies cordoned off the area after the war ended.

The only thing found in Alatsee Lake so far is ammunition.

"These deep mountain lakes were a good place to dump firearms and weapons," explains Alexander Beck, secretary of the Fuessen district fishing society.

"There's nothing else in there," says Juergen Geisenfelder, a rescue diver who is familiar with the depths of the Alatsee Lake.

Bavaria is not only popular among treasure seekers due to rumours of Nazi gold and King Ludwig II, but also because different laws mean finders benefit here more than in other places in the country.

It's often the case that any treasure dug up by prospectors that proves to be meaningful in historical terms becomes state property.

But in Bavaria, the finder owns half the treasure, with the other half belonging to the owner of the land where it was found.

If goods are found illegally, however, the state takes the finder's share, says a spokeswoman for Bavaria's state monument conservation office. But even if a looter is convicted for misappropriation, they may still keep half of the goods they found. A few years ago, attempts to alter this law failed, even though the authorities receive several hundred tip-offs about looting every year.

The police opened an investigation into the treasure hunters from Pfronten for property damage and violations of the nature conservation act. They now know who rented the excavator, a spokesman says. Plus, witness descriptions are helping in the search.

Those who broke into Haf's barn, meanwhile, wound up paying several thousand euros in compensation for damages and court costs.

Haf has since secured his barn, locking it with a heavy iron bar.

"No one knows what they were searching for here," he says. "But who knows what Adolf buried?" – dpa

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