MI reach arion Ackermann, General Director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD), in her office a few meters as the crow flies from the Green Vault, where almost a year ago, on November 25, 2019, two men stepped through a window and stole important jewels without being disturbed.
The break-in has changed the museum director’s everyday life. In the past twelve months, it was no longer just about showing the best exhibition, formulating convincing contributions to social debates such as the corona crisis, but about questions of guilt and safety precautions. In her voice you can hear the excitement – but also the relief. Almost a year after the fact, there is a step forward: the police arrested three suspects from the Berlin Remmo clan during a major operation in Berlin, and two men are still being searched. 1638 officers were on duty on November 17 from 6 a.m., searching a total of 18 objects, mostly in the Neukölln district.
WORLD: It’s been almost a year since the Green Vault was broken into, and you’ve been worried about the stolen jewels for a year. What is going through your head now?
Ackermann: I feel a tremendous relief. Much of the tension of the whole of last year has already fallen away. We currently only know that three suspects have been arrested. And the public prosecutor’s office is still looking for two alleged perpetrators. Therefore, of course, the feeling of hope dominates that the missing pieces of jewelry will be found and return to Dresden.
WORLD: What is more important for you and your house: identifying the perpetrators or finding the stolen property?
Ackermann: I can’t answer that like that. In fact, my greatest concern has always been that the perpetrators will be caught, but this may reduce the chance of the jewels being recovered. So I very much hope that the pieces of jewelery will be found very soon, otherwise our greatest task will be to do everything possible to bring them back! Only then does this nightmare end.
WORLD: Why is it so crucial that the jewels return to the Green Vault? Is it real monetary or historical value? Or maybe just the shock of being robbed?
Ackermann: In the past few months we have learned in many conversations and encounters how the experience of loss has increased the importance of the people’s own cultural identity in the Free State. This can certainly be compared with the Sistine Madonna by Raphael from our picture gallery, which was looted in Russia for a few years after the end of the Second World War. No other work of art is as deeply bonded to the Saxons, the Dresdeners, but also to all other guests as to our Madonna. And in the case of the Green Vault, too, we saw tremendous sympathy internationally last year.
WORLD: What we do know is that the arrests were made in the Neukölln Remmo clan. That extended family that was also convicted of breaking into the Bode Museum and stealing the gold coin. Last year the police did not allow the clan a quiet minute. What does this message do to you?
Ackermann: It shows once again what we as museum directors urgently need to achieve: direct networking between our houses in order to better protect ourselves.
WORLD: Are you alluding to the case of vandalism on Berlin’s Museum Island? Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters has not ruled out that there must be controls in front of every museum.
Ackermann: When the news reached us from Berlin, we decided that we would introduce bag checks, as they have always been customary in the Historisches Grünes Gewölbe, in all of our museums. We now have to wait and see whether this is really the permanent solution. For example, the Historisches Grünes Gewölbe is a very open collection presentation; The Kunstkammer is a walk-in total work of art in which it is impossible to protect everything with glass cabinets.
WORLD: In fact, this means that visitors could do a lot of damage with just their bare hands!
Ackermann: Yes. However, we need to reconcile measures against vandalism, fire, water and criminals. But this only applies to protection on site. The networking of the museums with one another is existential, we need good information flows, we need early warning systems. We have to learn from each other.
WORLD: What do you mean by that? I don’t understand why networking is so complicated, why the Berlin museums didn’t simply inform their colleagues in confidence. It should be very easy to implement these days.
Ackermann: We are already on the right track, have held conferences and will find a solution – and will certainly be able to prevent one or the other case in the future. The threat to cultural institutions from criminal acts must move even more into the focus of public awareness. We have to make sure that all other museums can protect themselves – just be warned.
WORLD: With your experience a year ago, you are of course sensitized to the topic. The questioning of the suspects will now ensure that the course of the break-in is now processed in detail – and hopefully the public will soon find out how it was possible that the break-in was successful. You too will have to answer questions again. Many questions are still unanswered: Was an employee of the security company involved? Why didn’t the alarm system outside work?
Ackermann: Even as the injured party, the SKD is not informed of the ongoing investigations. Our task this year was to use all our concentration to secure our museums for the future. You could say that we have a risk mitigation system in place.
WORLD: You can never rule out such break-in attempts one hundred percent?
Ackermann: We can rule out that this type of break-in will succeed again. Certainly. On the anniversary of the break-in, i.e. on November 25, 2020, we will present a comprehensive paper to politicians in which we will present our work-up and the resulting consequences.