Car thief's crash course in modern art Artworks binned as rubbish by car thief

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The Independent Online

"Ah, but is it art?" mused Krysztof, a Berlin car thief, as he inspected his ill-gotten hoard. Even to his untrained eye, some of the paintings seemed good enough to hang in his bedroom. Chagall and Miro he had never heard of, so he sold them to a fence for the equivalent of a few hundred pounds.

"Ah, but is it art?" mused Krysztof, a Berlin car thief, as he inspected his ill-gotten hoard. Even to his untrained eye, some of the paintings seemed good enough to hang in his bedroom. Chagall and Miro he had never heard of, so he sold them to a fence for the equivalent of a few hundred pounds.

But some of the loot, estimated to be worth DM1.6m (£500,000), did not pass the Krysztof test and was thrown away, conscientiously sorted into the relevant bins at the city dump. A portfolio of drawings went into the paper recycling skip, the metal sculpture and engravings were discarded in the box marked "scrap".

Some paintings had to becut up because they would not fit. But Krysztof enjoyed the task. He never did like post-modernism.

The 29-year-old newspaper delivery man was not, in any case, after art. He wanted only the van, to flog it for a fast zloty in Poland. The driver of the vehicle had parked it on 20 March this year in the centre of Berlin while he popped into a bank.

He had driven from Cologne to deliver the artworks to an auction house in Berlin. Inside lay works by Otto Dix, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, the sculptress Käthe Kollwitz and the creations of many contemporary German artists.

The next day, Krysztof learnt from the newspapers that he had just pulled off Berlin's biggest art theft in 20 years.He was not very pleased. Hegot rid of the hot stuff as quickly as he could, and parked the van out in the street, hoping some other thief would find a use for it; there are a lot of villains in Spandau, the area where he lives.

Meanwhile the police were combing through their files of art thieves as they tried to hunt down the missing works. Krysztof was not on the list.

But he did get a visit from the law. They were investigating a spate of car thefts in the neighbourhood, and Krysztof's place was a reasonable starting point. They found nothing incriminating, until a policewoman noticed a couple of paintings that "did not seem to fit in with the decor of the apartment". The one in the garage was definitely out of place.

Krysztof confessed and led the police to the cellar where the fence had stashed away the best of the rest. Now the search goes on for the lost works. Berlin's dustmen have been asked to sift the rubbish and look out for anything resembling modern art.

Connoisseurs of the contemporary art scene are confident something will turn up. There is enough in those bins, they argue, to replenish even the great Saatchi collection.

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