The Current

How did thieves steal gigantic $1M Canadian gold coin from Berlin museum?

Just how did thieves make off with a giant $1 million dollar gold Canadian coin from a Berlin museum, remains a mystery. But it was a heist that proved once again that the world's priceless artifacts are seldom safe in their museum hideaways.
The gold coin nicknamed 'Big Maple Leaf' in Berlin's Bode Museum weights 220 pounds and is made of 99.999 per cent gold. (Marcel Mettelsiefen/dpa/Associated Press)

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A giant gold Canadian coin worth millions of dollars was stolen from Germany's Bode Museum in Berlin. 

"Big Maple Leaf," as the 100-kilogram coin is nicknamed, was issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007 and is 99.999 per cent gold.

On March 27 it went missing. It's nominally valued at $1 million but considering the current price of gold it is actually worth closer to $6 million. 

So how could thieves lift a gigantic coin — which weighs as much as a refrigerator — and escape undetected?

According to New York Times's Berlin correspondent Melissa Eddy who has been following the story, the details read like a good game of Clue.

"We have a ladder, a wheelbarrow and a rope, These are the pieces of evidence that [police] have found so far" she tells The Current's guest host Kelly Crowe.

A ladder, a wheelbarrow and a rope

The Bode museum sits on an island, surrounded by water. An elevated railway track cuts across the island directly behind the back wall of the museum. 

Eddy explains the ladder was found lying three to four metres above the railway bed that the trains run on. Police confirm the thieves used it to climb up into the window that was forcibly opened.

"They believe what happened was the thieves got in through that window and also exited through that window with this enormous coin."  
The 2007, Canadian $1 Million 'Big Maple Leaf' is one of the of the world's largest gold coins (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

She adds the coin may be damaged since police found a large mark below the window and a dent in the railway bed.

"They may have just chucked it out the window because they couldn't carry it down the ladder," Eddy tells Crowe.

The coin was kept behind bullet proof glass which Eddy says was shattered. Police believe the thieves had heavy equipment to break through the window and shatter the glass.

It seems the heist took place between 3:20 a.m. and 3:45 a.m.

Between 1:30 a.m. and 4 a.m., trains do not run on the track where the ladder was found.

Police say a wheelbarrow was then used to carry the coin along several hundred metres where a bridge passes over a park.

The rope was found in the park where the thieves met a waiting getwaway car.

Eddy assumes at least two people were involved in the heist, since the coin was so heavy to carry.

There is no further information as to the whereabouts of "Big Maple Leaf."

So will the coin ever be found?

Eddy doesn't think so. The coin will most likely be melted down to sell the gold "because the market value is so high."

Taylor Bayouth, author of How to Steal the Mona Lisa and Six Other World Famous Treasures, agrees there will be no sign of this coin again.
Author Taylor Bayouth says security around priceless art in museums is way overrated. (© Taylor Bayouth)

He tells Crowe the old school way of stealing treasures from museums is more realistic than what you see in the movies. 

"I mean really, you know, a ladder, a wheelbarrow, duct tape — these are your tools of the trade for thieves."

Bayouth tells Crowe the most high-tech piece of equipment used to break into a museum is a water-cooled drill to get through a really thick pain of glass.

"It's a lot easier than breaking into a Las Vegas casino or a bank," he says of museums because they just don't have a budget to accommodate a state-of-the-art security system that needs a lot of tools and equipment to break in.

"In today's security, you really just need to look at the personnel and figure out how to get around a limited skeleton crew at night."

Listen to the full story at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal, Ashley Mak, Lara O'Brien and Sujata Berry.