Almost half of Germany’s gold resides at 33 Liberty St., the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 80 feet below street level in a vault that sits on Manhattan’s bedrock. In 2012, Boehringer started a campaign on his blog to bring it home. He argued the gold should be shipped to the German central bank in Frankfurt. The hoard, amassed during Germany’s postwar boom, had never been subject to a published bar-by-bar physical review by its owners.
That lack of accounting had become an insatiable itch for Boehringer. As the volunteer chairman of a private storage company for silver and gold investors based in Gerstetten, Germany, Boehringer personally counts the holdings each year by lugging metal valued at some €140 million ($161 million) from one end of the vault to the other, just to make sure it’s all there. His blog became a hub for precious-metal fans. As gold prices peaked in 2011, the Taxpayers Association of Europe asked him to draft a letter to the Deutsche Bundesbank seeking to know precisely where the central bank’s gold was. He eagerly agreed to help the group, which advocates for lower taxes and serves as an umbrella for 29 national associations across the continent. After receiving a response that wasn’t detailed enough to satisfy him, Boehringer pressed on, starting the “Repatriate Our Gold” campaign in February 2012. He conceded it had low odds of success. Gold bugs largely inhabit the fringes of finance, and some of their apocalyptic arguments for investing had begun to show cracks as gold prices slid. Opponents including bankers and journalists branded Boehringer a conspiracy theorist for even suggesting something was amiss at the core of global finance. Then the seemingly impossible happened: He started to win.
“Some things didn’t add up,” he says, especially the trust-based monetary system. “I saw how destructive paper money could become.” Concluding that precious metals were a reliable store of wealth, he became a gold evangelist, blogging and starting his money-management business in 2003. Three years later he founded the German Precious Metal Society, which organizes conferences and speeches on topics such as gold price manipulation and trends in gold demand in Asia. It was through his activism that the Taxpayers Association of Europe found Boehringer, and they started their campaign.
The first breakthrough occurred in September 2012, when Germany’s Audit Court followed Boehringer with its own, similar demands. The court, which is a branch of the federal government that examines federal financial management, asked the Bundesbank to say how much gold it had and where it was located and to physically inspect the bars, saying their existence had never been verified.
The Bundesbank responded a month later, revealing that at the end of 2011 it had 271,265 bars weighing 3,396 tons—today worth about $140 billion. They were stored in Frankfurt and at the New York Fed, the Bank of England in London, and the Bank of France in Paris. “Every year, these central banks provide the Bundesbank with confirmation of its holdings of gold,” the German bank said. “The integrity, reputation, and security of these foreign depositories are beyond reproach. … There is no possibility of confusion or commingling with the holdings of other parties.” The single biggest slice of the German reserves, at 45 percent, was in Lower Manhattan: 122,597 bars weighing about 1,536 tons, dwarfing the 1,036 tons held in Germany itself.