x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Goebbels tapestry finds home at last in museum

After being stolen, traded and smuggled, the wall hanging made for Hitler's propaganda minister now belongs to a German museum.

The tapestry, which was ordered by Joseph Goebbels, was declared to be public property last month.
The tapestry, which was ordered by Joseph Goebbels, was declared to be public property last month.

BERLIN // A garish tapestry made for Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, has finally found a home after a bizarre odyssey during which it was stolen, traded on the black market, hidden from the East German secret police and smuggled across the Iron Curtain by a Greek pop singer. The wall hanging, which depicts eagles clinging to golden swastikas and a scene from the Song of the Nibelungs, a medieval epic about dragon slayers and stolen treasure, was seized by police in 2007. It is due to be handed over to the German Historical Museum in Berlin after a public prosecutor's office settled an ownership dispute last month by declaring it public property. "It has no artistic merit, and that in itself gives it some historical value. It is a piece of historical testimony," Rudolf Trabold, spokesman for the museum, told The National. "Its story is a very German one." The adventure of the Goebbels tapestry is as far-fetched as the legend it depicts. At one point even a fortune teller was involved. She tried to sell it to a prominent neo-Nazi for ?400,000 (Dh2.1 million), but failed to foresee that the police would thwart the deal. Hand-woven in a factory in Vienna, the Nazi relic shows the mythical warlord Hagen of Tronje at the bow of a ship while his warriors throw the Nibelung treasure into the Rhine. Nazi ideology drew heavily on Germanic and Norse legends because they evoked the principles of sacrifice and loyalty. Goebbels did not have much opportunity to savour the artwork he commissioned. By the time it was delivered to his Propaganda Ministry in March 1945, the Soviet army was closing in on Berlin. He committed suicide a few weeks later. What happened to the tapestry then is a mystery. Maybe it was plundered by Soviet soldiers combing through the devastated government palaces, or was whisked away by a civil servant. It eventually came into the possession of an antiques dealer in the eastern city of Dresden who recognised its potential value and hid it in his cellar for 30 years until 1978. In the 1970s, the communist authorities frequently raided antique stores for precious collectables and sold the items to the West for much-needed hard currency. So the dealer, named only as Wilfried J, decided to hand the carpet to a famous acquaintance, Costa Cordalis, a Greek-born crooner of German pop songs who lived in West Germany and occasionally held concerts in the east. They made a deal that Mr Cordalis would smuggle the carpet to the West and sell it there on the dealer's behalf. "We rolled it up and hid it on the back seat of his car, and his children sat on it," Wilfried J's widow Marianne told Süddeutsche Zeitung, a leading newspaper. A few days after the handover, Mr Cordalis rang up and said: "The flowers have dried up." That was an agreed code to say the plan had gone wrong and the carpet had been confiscated at the border. In fact, no such thing happened. Mr Cordalis, now 65, held on to the prized tapestry for decades in a bid to sell it at the highest possible price. He enlisted the help of a fortune teller, Ute Link, to seek someone willing to pay one million German marks, around ?500,000. "I tried to sell the carpet for 25 years and looked for a buyer all over the place, even in America and India," Ms Link told The National. "But the price he wanted was too high. Then I made contact with someone senior in the far-right scene in northern Germany who was ready to buy it for ?400,000." Ms Link said she set up a meeting between the prospective buyer and Mr Cordalis in a hotel room in the town of Oldenburg in February 2007. But the police confiscated the carpet. "I had a drug dealer as a customer at the time and my phone was being tapped. That's how police got wind of the deal," said the fortune teller. "I knew this would end up going wrong." Mr Cordalis, whose musical career has been in decline and who won the German edition of the reality television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2004, insists he paid the Dresden dealer 40,000 German marks for the carpet."I didn't know it belonged to Goebbels," he told Bild, a tabloid newspaper. Many tapestries like this one, which measures 4.18 by 2.27 metres, were manufactured for the Nazis who wanted them for their ostentatious public buildings, Anja Prölss-Kammerer, an art historian, said. "They were intended as a medium to demonstrate power like the kings of France did. The Nazis had them hand-woven in special tapestry-weaving mills. They would feature scenes from big battles in German history and German myths. Many were also made for Nazi training colleges, with eagles and swastikas and sentences like 'You Are Nothing. Your People is Everything'." foreign.desk@thenational.ae