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  • Berlin heists: A recent history of bank robberies, break-ins and shoot outs


Berlin heists: A recent history of bank robberies, break-ins and shoot outs

Berlin is creative in all things: art, music, theatre... and robbery. This is a history of some remarkable Berlin heists and bank robberies.

Photo: IMAGO / Sven Simon

The great Berliner, poet and playwright Bertoldt Brecht once asked: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?” and Berlin seems to share his taste. This city likes a creative heist. Long home to independent thinkers and innovators in all spheres of creativity, crime is no exception.

For that reason, we thought we’d review some of the city’s recent robberies. There’s something for everyone here, from the lowbrow (busting in and grabbing bags of cash) to the ingenious (swiping a 100kg gold coin from a Museum without setting off a single alarm). Let’s get started.

Zehlendorf tunnel, 1995

Photo: IMAGO / Pond5 Images

What happened? This is considered one of the most spectacular bank robberies of the century, a Commerzbank branch in Zehlendorf was the site of an ingenious robbery on June 27, 1995. It made global news due to the sophistication of the operation.

How did they do it? The plan was over a year in the making. The team including a German, an Italian, a Lebanese and three Syrian men rented a garage at Matterhornstraße 48 in March 1994. From there, they dug a one metre diameter tunnel for 20 metres to join up with a sewage tunnel. They followed this for about 100 metres, and then dug a second tunnel around 50 metres long, up into the basement of the Commerzbank branch, then located at Breisgauer Straße 8. 

On the day of the robbery, two of the men broke through the basement floor at 10:25am, while the other four entered simultaneously through the front entrance. There, they took 16 hostages and demanded a ransom of 17 million marks, as well as a helicopter and an escape car. Police officers surrounded the building, and handed over 5.62 million marks in the hope of securing the release of some of the hostages, without success. 

Photo: IMAGO / mix1

After this there was a long stalemate. Police issued an ultimatum to the thieves, then at 3.43am, the police stormed the building. They found all the hostages unharmed, the contents of over half of the bank’s safes empty, and no sign of the perpetrators. They had long since escaped through the tunnel. It’s thought that they got away with a tidy haul of around 16.3 million marks.

Busted? Most of the perpetrators were eventually caught, but the heist itself was considered by then Police President Hagen Saberschinsky as having “a certain professionalism, perhaps also genius”. 

Two weeks after the attack a 19 year old car painter who owned a workshop next to the garage on Matterhornstraße was arrested. A discarded cigarette butt, some overalls worn during the robbery and the previous tenant of the garage (who turned out to be the brother of one of the perpetrators), put the investigators on the trail of the rest of the thieves. The boss of the gang was sentenced to 13 years in prison, with the others receiving lighter sentences of 12, 10 and 6 years. 

Hyatt Poker robbery, 2010

Photo: IMAGO / Olaf Wagner

What happened? A group of four young guys busted into the European Poker Tour at the Hyatt on Potsdamer Platz, causing absolute mayhem. They were after the one million euro jackpot.

How did they do it? The approach was pretty crude in comparison to the finesse of the Zehlendorf tunnel. At 2.15pm on March 6, four men, armed with handguns and a machete, busted in through the front doors and attacked the security staff, making their getaway with around 500,000 euros stuffed into jackets and a bag. All four of the perpetrators were aged 19-21, and the whole episode was a bit of a mess. One of them refused to wear protective gloves because he thought they didn’t go with his outfit, and as a result left his fingerprints all over the scene. Others removed their masks in full view of security cameras. 

Busted? All four of them were caught and put behind bars. It seems likely that they were bullied into doing the messy job by a wider criminal gang, and it’s certain they didn’t see much of the cash. One of the men turned himself in a few days later, and dobbed in his three accomplices in hope of a reduction in his sentence. That must have made for an awkward reunion. 

Volksbank Steglitz, 2013

What happened? Another tunnelling epic took place in January 2013, which saw the perpetrators digging a tunnel up into the vault of a Volksbank branch, getting away with a whacking ten million euros.  

Photo: IMAGO / agefotostock

How did they do it? In the autumn of 2011, an unknown man (with what later turned out to be a false passport) rented a safe deposit box in the Volksbank branch in order to scope out the joint. In early 2012, also under a false name, four adjacent underground car parking spaces were rented by a ‘Simon Segura’ in the adjacent Wrangelstraße. Under the pretext of using the space to work on motorcycles, he had the parking space sealed off with walls and a rolling shutter. 

The hole in the wall has become a museum exhibit. Photo: IMAGO / Olaf Wagner

The perpetrators began using a core drill to dig a tunnel from the underground car park to the Volksbank vault, some 45 metres away. The noise was conveniently covered up by nearby construction, and the car park’s sound-proofed ceiling. Somehow, they managed to dispose of the 120 tons of excavated sand and earth unnoticed. The tunnel itself was incredibly sophisticated, with supporting wooden beams to protect from collapse, and with its course corrected several times in order to aim precisely for the vault. 

On January 12 at 7:02am, an alarm went off from the bank’s vault, but when a security guard came to investigate and stood in front of the vault (which was locked from the outside), he didn’t see anything suspicious and assumed it was a false alarm. It was a full two days later, on January 14, that a security guard noticed a fire in the bank’s vault and called the fire department. At the same time, a fire was reported in the underground car park. In those two (presumably rather triumphant) days, the perpetrators broke into over 300 of the 1,600 lockers in the vault and stole their contents, to the tune of about ten million euros. 

Photo: IMAGO / YAY Images

Busted? Incredibly, this case is still unsolved, and none of the perpetrators have been caught. Given the length of time since it took place, it’s now very unlikely that they ever will be. Their craftsmanship does live on however – you can go and see the entrance to their tunnel for yourself at the Berliner Unterwelten Museum! 

KaDeWe break-in, 2014

Photo: imago/Schöning

What happened? In the run-up to Christmas five masked men went on a smash and grab mission, pulling up outside KaDeWe, running in, smashing cases and running off with a bunch of jewellery and high end watches. 

How did they do it? At 10:20am on December 20, five guys pulled up onto the pavement on Ansbacher Straße and rushed into the store. Some of them got busy smashing open display cases and stuffing jewellery and watches into bags, while the rest of the group sprayed tear gas and threatened the security staff and customers. It was a lightning quick affair, lasting less than two minutes, during which they stole 15 Rolex watches and Chopard diamond jewellery worth around 800,000 euros. 

Busted? Their conspicuous BMW getaway vehicle was soon tracked down, but only three of the five perpetrators were eventually locked up. The owner of the car was arrested and testified against the other two in the hope of getting off with a lighter sentence. He did end up getting a lighter sentence, with one of his accomplices being acquitted due to a lack of evidence, and the other going down for six years.

Bode Museum, 2017 

Photo: IMAGO / Hohlfeld

What happened? In a headline grabbing robbery, three men stole a giant pure gold coin from the Bode Museum worth 3.3 million euros. They must have needed a particularly large sack. 

How did they do it? March 27 was a Monday, when most museums are closed, but that didn’t stop three visitors popping in. At 3am (before any trains were running), the men jumped from the train platform at Hackescher Markt onto the tracks. They walked along them across the Spree to Museum island, where the tracks lead between the Pergamon and the Bode Museum. 

This part of the museum’s exterior had not been under video surveillance for some time, which had allowed them to remove the bolts securing the glass a week earlier. They used a ladder to reach the window which led to an employee changing room. No alarms were set off, it being the only window not connected to the external security system. They had an accomplice on the inside who had been hired as a security guard a few weeks prior.

A young thief examines the coin. Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

Making their way to the third floor and avoiding the guards (who did a sweep every few hours), they smashed the case of the ‘Big Maple Leaf’ giant Canadian gold coin, transporting the enormous 100kg object on a simple board with wheels. They pushed it back through the hallways, back to the window they originally broke in through. 

They dropped the coin off the tracks into Monbijou Park below, where they then descended with the same rope that had been used to raise a wheelbarrow and other heavy lifting equipment up onto the tracks. At 3:52am, a surveillance camera at a nearby construction site showed a car driving away via the pedestrian walkway along the Spree. 

Monbijou Park with the Bode Museum in the background. Photo: IMAGO / CHROMORANGE

Busted? The perpetrators (members of the Berlin Remmo clan) were eventually caught and sentenced three years later in 2020. Two defendants (aged 23 and 21) were sentenced as juveniles and given a four and a half year stretch. The third defendant, a 21 year old who had been their man on the inside as a security guard, received a sentence of three years and four months. A fourth defendant was acquitted. Some members were also responsible for another incredibly famous museum heist, where they stole hundreds of millions worth of jewellery from the Green Vault in Dresden. It was obviously a passion project. 

Alexanderplatz cash-in-transit vehicle robbery 2018

What happened? On October 19, 2018, a group of armed men stole seven million euros from a cash-in-transit vehicle at Alex. 

The abandoned cash-in-transit vehicle. Photo: IMAGO / snapshot

How did they do it? We’re returning to the smash and grab end of the crime scale with this one. At 7.30am five masked men stopped a cash-in-transit vehicle on Schillingstraße wielding Kalashnikovs. They broke into the armoured van with a hydraulic device usually used by the fire service for opening sealed doors in emergencies, then fleeing with the loot in two cars in the direction of Kreuzberg. 

A car chase ensued, in the course of which shots were fired at the police pursuers from one of the getaway cars. The gun shots rather put off the police, so they gave up the pursuit. As you might imagine, there was a fair bit of carnage – dozens of witnesses, damaged vehicles and a large portion of the cash dropped in their flight. 

Busted? Three of the perpetrators eventually went down for the crime. Traces of their DNA in the getaway vehicles led to their speedy arrest only a few days later.

Safe deposit boxes on Fasanenstraße, 2022

Photo: IMAGO / Future Image

What happened? A huge amount of money and valuables were stolen from a vault in a private bank in Charlottenburg. Since it was a private vault the exact amount is still unknown, but it is estimated at a whopping 32 million euros. 

How did they do it? Relatively little is known about the actions of the perpetrators, but there is suspicion that it was an inside job. Disguised as security guards, the thieves entered the building at around 8pm on November 19 and spray painted the security cameras out, meaning there was no footage of the action. They then managed to penetrate the 1.75 metre thick steel door, an alarm system and several code secured doors to gain access to the vault. 

The main target of the robbery was an online second-hand luxury watch retailer, who reported around 10 million euros worth of their goods had been stolen. The real value of the rest of the loot is more difficult to pin down, because some of the vault’s private customers didn’t provide complete information, indicating that they were probably storing dirty money. 

Busted? The case is ongoing. In May 2023 there were police raids across the city in which lots of evidence was found. Two suspects were arrested who were suspected of planning the heist. 

07.09.2023 - 16:13 Uhr