4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Amber has captivated people for the past 12,000 years. The golden coloured fossilised tree resins were first made into beads in the Neolithic time and have been highly sought after ever since. The lumps of amber can be cut and polished and turned into beautiful jewellery. Because of its value it has been highly sought after and as it doesn’t weight much it has been easy to transport for trade.
Since the Roman times, there has been a route from the north of Europe that bought this precious material from the beaches of the Baltic Sea all the way down to the Mediterranean. This is the beginning of a 2500 kilometre journey that will take him from the northern shores of Europe where a lot of the amber can be picked off the beaches of the Baltic Sea if you have sharp enough eyes to spot it.
Heading along the Baltic Coast, he passes through the countries of Estonia, Latvia, briefly into Russia and then Lithuania. While he is that far north, he has a go at finding it on those beaches though takes a sharp eye and after spending a little while looking, Schüler gets his eye in and finds his first piece, a cylinder about the size of a fingernail that still had an impression of the bark of the tree it came from 50 million years ago.
While in Russia he goes to visit the Amber Room in the Catherin Palace in St Petersburg. This is a replica of the original room which was looted in World War II and taken to Königsberg. It was thought to have been damaged when bombed, but there were rumours that it might have survived. This magnificent room glows in the light.
Turning inland the journey takes him to Poland next. There are two main routes here that archaeological evidence suggests could have been in use at the same time. He is bowled over by the amber collection in Marienburg which has pieces that go back to 2000bc but the centrepiece is the Renaissance and Baroque collections. In the Czech Republic, he heads to the town of Olomouc where he is hoping to find more amber in the museum.
Just over the border into Hungary, he is in the city of Sopron to visit the city museum in Fabricius House where they have some finely carved amber which showed that the raw amber that had headed south would work its way back north as finished pieces. His journey is almost at an end as he approaches southern Europe, where there are still people creating jewellery from amber.
I really liked this book following alongside Schüler down the Amber Route. It was good to read about very different parts of Europe than I usually do. Woven throughout the book is his own personal family history, of relatives who survived the holocaust in the second world war and tribute to those that tragically didn’t. Coupled with that is a fascinating history over 2000 years of the people and places that were obsessed with this precious material. If there was one tiny flaw, I would have liked to have had some photos included of the places that he visits.