“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
One morning, Frieda walked to the door to her job, prepared to start her day as any other. She was met with a box at her doorstep. She brought it inside with the rest of the morning mail. None of her nursing staff came in that early, so she took her mornings slow, basking in the quiet of her office. She examined the box and froze when she saw that it was from Koenigsberg. She didn't open it. Without a glance, she knew what had to be in there.
Before she moved to Berlin to study medicine, Frieda had lived in the small town of Koenigsberg. Most of her time was spent with her childhood love, Felix, and his father Franz. Franz was a good man, hardworking and diligent while still caring and supportive of Felix's artistic gifts. Franz was born with a lame leg, making some tasks around the house difficult. Frieda would work around the house to help lighten the load. She didn't mind spending the time because it meant time with Felix.
As they grew older, Franz's leg began to worsen. Soon, he couldn't walk without a cane or a crutch. He still performed his chores, albeit slowly. He would also still manage to allow Frieda and Felix some time to themselves. One day, Franz's evening journies began to take longer, and longer. Soon, he would be gone hours, and then well into the night. He would always come home eventually, and always acted fine. Felix had asked Franz once about his nightly outings, and Franz told him not to ask him again. Ever dutiful, Felix obeyed his father.
Then one night, Franz came running home. He ran on both legs as if he had always been able to. He told Felix and Frieda to follow him, so he could show them the source of his miraculous recovery. Stunned, the young couple followed Franz into the darkened woods.
An hour through the dark forest led them to a lonely cave nestled into the mountains.
With only a lantern to guide them, Franz led them in to the cave. It was dark and cold for what seemed to be hours until the space ahead of them began to glow. The glow was as warm and gentle as the summer sunrise. They moved towards it. Rough ground and treacherous rocks began to smooth and even out. Finally, the glow grew stronger as they found what Franz wanted to show them.
Simply put, it was a room, but that description was inadequate. It was a room, with four paneled walls and a smooth floor, yes. However, those panels were made of luminous materials in various shades of yellow. Frieda looked at it all, realization dawning. The stones that adorned these gilded panels practically glowed with their own internal light. It was not just gold, but pure amber.
"When I was a young man," Franz said, "The Nazis were evacuating all of their inventory from Koenigsberg before the Allies arrived. They found me and demanded I help them find some place in the area to hide their cargo before the bombs fell. I knew of these caves, I used to play in them as a child. And so, we hid them. But the planes had arrived. The entire unit had been killed in the blast. Only I knew where the crates were."
Franz walked around, looking at the panels. He seemed to know them intimately by now. "I kept this place secret, swearing to never return. But my leg..." He looked to Felix, "I hoped to find something to give you a better life, to give you both a better life. Then, I found this, the Amber Room."
Sitting down, Franz explained to his son and Frieda the history of the Amber Room. Built somewhere between 1701 and 1711 in the Prussian Empire, it was made a gift from King Wilhelm to Czar Peter the Great. Panel by panel, it was transported to the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. With its warm glow of amber reflected in polished gold backing and precious jewels, it was the symbol of pure affluence and wealth.
Rumor had it that the Czars were enamored with the room. People spoke of finding Peter just sitting in the room alone. Even Nikolai would spend his time there by himself. When the siege of Leningrad happened, the Germans reclaimed the panels and brought it to Koenigsberg. There, it waited until the Allies came, when Franz became aware of it. Many who were tied to the Amber Room died.
When Franz opened the crates, he became enamored with the pieces. He explained to his son and Frieda that when he opened the crates, he saw what was there. He was enamored with the inherent glow, and he felt drawn to it. He rebuilt the room panel by panel until finally, it was complete. As he stared at the restored room, his leg began to get better, until finally, he could stand again. He could stand and he could walk again, better than he had ever before.
The three of them made their way back to the cottage. On the way, they swore to themselves that they would keep the room secret. So many would come and try to seize it, and the war was not too far from memory. They promised their silence to one another and toasted to the good fortune of Franz.
Things were well, for a time. The cottage where Franz and Felix lived and the surrounding area thrived now that Franz was of good health. Frieda spent more time there. It was assumed the young romance with Felix would bloom into marriage in just a matter of time. Things began to turn for the worse, however when Franz began to disappear into the night again.
One night, Felix followed his father. He followed him through the woods and into the caves, where the Amber Room waited. He saw his father sitting there, just staring at it. He sat as if in a trance or under a spell. He remembered the stories his father told of Czars becoming transfixed by the wealth that was the room. Despite his concern, Felix could not bring himself to confront his father, not while standing in that room.
Frieda had no such compunction. She had become afraid for Felix and his father. She said that they should leave the room behind and use the wealth it afforded them to better their lives. She knew that Franz wouldn't agree to part with the room, but she was shocked to learn that Felix also couldn't bare to.
Franz's disappearances grew. Hours became days, and it became clear that Franz was neglecting his health. His leg was fine, but his wellness was otherwise diminishing. Then, the inevitable happened. A week had passed, and he hadn't returned home. The young lovers went to the cave, where they found what they secretly suspected. Franz had died, his body slumped in the center of the room. Without either the means to retrieve Franz, or the courage to tell anyone of the Amber Room, they left Franz in the cave. It seemed fitting somehow.
That night, Frieda pleaded with Felix that they should leave the town. She wanted nothing to do with the room. Felix resisted the thought. He could not risk someone finding the cave and creating conflict over the room. He owed it to his father, he claimed. Frieda could tell from the look in his eyes that this wasn't about his father or a legacy. He couldn't part with the room himself.
Frieda left Koenigsberg that very night and never looked back. She felt the pull and allure of the Amber Room and the love she bore Felix but refused to let it influence her decision. It was beautiful and it was the wealth of kings, but there was nothing that could be done there except to join Franz as a body trapped in an amber glow. There was nothing to gain from yearning for an amount of wealth no one could exhaust in a lifetime. There was only loss to be had.
Years passed, and she went on. As a doctor in Berlin, she had made enough of her life to put distance between her and Koenigsberg. That distance was a comfort until the box arrived on her office doorstep. She opened it and found a necklace. Stones of warm amber glowed gently, inlaid in tarnished gold. There was no card or letter. There didn't need to be. For Felix to have made that necklace, he would have had to have returned to the caves. Silently, she mourned for Felix, seeing him in her mind trapped in amber like his father, another victim of greed.