The Ultimate Counterfeiter Isn’t a Crook—He’s an Artist
On a bright May afternoon in 2007, a German artist and printmaker named Hans-Jürgen Kuhl took a seat at an outdoor café directly opposite the colossal facade of the Cologne Cathedral. He ordered an espresso and a slice of plum cake, lit a Lucky Strike, and watched for the buyer. She was due any minute. Kuhl, a lanky 65-year-old, had to remind himself that he was in no rush. He’d sold plenty of artwork over the years, but this batch was altogether different. He needed to be patient.
Tourists milled about the platz in front of the cathedral, Germany’s most visited landmark, craning their necks to snap pictures of the impossibly intricate spires jutting toward the heavens. Kuhl knew those spires well. He had grown up in Cologne and painted the majestic cathedral countless times.
On the other side of a low brick wall surrounding the café, Kuhl finally spotted her. Tall, blond, and trim, Susann Falkenthal looked about 30. As was the case during their previous meetings, she wore practical shoes, an unremarkable blouse and pair of pants, and little makeup. Kuhl thought her plain look was something of a contradiction for a businesswoman who drove a black BMW convertible, but no matter.
When they first met a few months earlier, Falkenthal said she was an events manager from Vilnius, Lithuania, and gave Kuhl a card printed with a Vilnius address as well as an address from the German city of Essen. Her German was flawless.