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18 Nov, 2008 07:01

Spoils of war return home

Six panels of a precious stained-glass medieval church window have been returned to Germany after being taken to Russia by Red Army soldiers during World War II.

“It is a treasure. It is unique not only for Frankfurt, but also for history. The completeness brings back the value and reputation of the window ensemble,” said Frankfurt an der Oder resident Herbert Wolf.

The German church Marienkirche, located near the border with Poland, is preparing to restore and reinstall a 117-panel set that depicts the Bible in pictures.

The precious panels, dating back to the 14th century, were removed from the Marienkirche during the war to protect the artwork from bombing. They had been held in a basement of a palace in Potsdam until Soviet soldiers seized them and brought to Russia in the last days of the war.

The first 111 panels, held for decades at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, were returned in 2002 for the 750th anniversary of the church, which is older than the windows.

The rest of the collection was found in 2005 at a cloister outside Moscow.

Now when the last six panels, including colorful depictions of Adam and Eve have been returned, it will take more than a year to restore it.

“One has to imagine a lot of pieces cracked, some are missing, the backsides are damaged by corrosion, but this is a condition which is normal for the age of the windows and which can be repaired as the other returned windows have shown,” said restorer Sandra Meinung.

Russia and Germany have long argued over priceless objects taken in the dying days of World War II. In recent years, Germany and Russia has returned to each other a number of cultural treasures.

Germany also helped restore several cultural objects in Russia, including the renowned Amber Room at the 18th century Catherine palace outside St Petersburg.  

It's hoped that the recent homecoming will herald similar swaps of the spoils of war in the future.

“A homecoming is always a special experience,” said Russia's ambassador to Germany Vladimir Kotenev, according to the Associated Press. “All the more so when it has been absent for so long.”

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