Fearful Investors Stash Money in Luxury Goods

The man standing in the elegant counter hall of the Pro Aurum gold dealing house in Berlin begs to differ. The zookeeper looks -- and smells -- a little out of place amid the gold bars arrayed behind reinforced glass. He's just come from mucking out stables at Berlin Zoo. All these unsecured loans are like toothpaste, the man said. "You can get it out of the tube, but it won't go back in."

Politicians are only making the final bankruptcy more likely by shelling out ever higher sums and setting up new rescue funds, he says. That's why he has converted his and his wife's life insurance and almost all their cash reserves into precious metal. "No one can take my gold away," he says.

The greater the public fear, the longer the queues in front of the Pro Aurum counters. Gold is seen as crisis-proof. The Munich-based trading house is benefiting from the crisis. For a long time, though, it hadn't looked that way. The job of precious metals dealer used to be looked down on in banks, and many were made redundant, including Robert Hartmann, who is now the head of Pro Aurum. 'Nothing is Safe'

Eight years ago, Hartmann joined up with other former colleagues. They were laughed at -- in those days, share trading was considered the place to be, not pushing gold coins across counters. Hartmann envisaged eventually having a staff of six or seven. Today, he employs over 100 people, and his annual sales amount to just under €1 billion.

Hartmann knows that the run on his gold "has less to do with performance than with helplessness." He adds: "We simply have the medicine to calm people down."

But is gold really a safeguard against poverty? In April 1933, during the global economic crisis, US President Theodore Roosevelt forbade the private ownership of gold. Philipp Vorndran also expects rigid capital controls to come into force at some point. If the crisis gets worse everyone -- and especially his customers -- will be told to pay up. "Every citizen will be affected, there will be no pain-free solution," he says.

In order to alleviate the pain, his company is storing its gold in a depot outside the euro zone. But is that safe? "Nothing is safe these days," he says.

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