Big Maple Leaf gold coin

Spectacular Theft of $4M Big Maple Leaf Gold Coin

The stunning heist of a 220-pound gold coin worth more than $4 million dollars from a German museum has bewildered authorities in Berlin and sparked a desperate hunt for the scratch before it is melted down.

The Canadian coin, known as Big Maple Leaf, has a diameter of more than 20 inches and is more than an inch thick — it would make a great coffee table. It has a face value of $1 million, but the value of the gold is closer to $4.5 million.

“My bet is that it has already been melted down,” Douglas Mudd, curator for the American Numismatic Association, told USA TODAY. “To go through all this trouble, you have to have a plan unless you are a total idiot.”

An official at the Bode Museum discovered the theft early Monday, and on Tuesday Berlin police revealed the sordid details. The thieves used a ladder to access a window, smashed it and broke into a bullet-proof glass case. The ladder was found on nearby railroad tracks, and police said the bandits apparently made off with the coin in a wheelbarrow, rolling it along the tracks and then lowering it on a rope to a park before fleeing by car into the Berlin night.

Train service in the heart of the city shut down Monday morning during the early hours of the search. Police were urging anyone who saw someone outside the museum that morning to come forward. They also asked for tips about anyone attempting to sell large volumes of gold. Art experts have joined the team investigating the crime.

The coin, if it remains a coin, features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and three maple leaves on the back. It was issued by the Royal Canadian Mint a decade ago, part of a promotional campaign for a line of gold coins. It’s been on loan to the Bode from a private collection since 2010, museum officials said.

The melting temperature of gold is almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but Mudd said the gold could be melted down with any small industrial melting equipment. One-ounce bars are easy to sell, he said.

“It’s not something you could do on your stove, but if you break it up even a serious hobbyist could do it,” he said. “Then it’s a matter of taking a trip and selling gold bars in every city.”

The Bode, residing on Berlin’s Museum Island since 1904, is best known for its collection of sculptures and its “coin cabinet.” The museum holds more than 500,000 coins, “ranging from the dawn of minting in Asia Minor in the 7th century BC to its collections of coins and medals from the 21st century.”

“We are shocked that the burglars have overcome our security systems, which have been successfully protecting our objects for many years,” museum director Michael Eissenhauer said in a statement. “The perpetrators have done a great deal of violence, and we are glad that no personal injury has occurred.”