One of the coolest things I saw during my recent trip to Prague wasn’t a castle or tower, but a wall. And not just any wall; a Lennon wall. What makes this wall so interesting is not the material used to construct it or its location, but the living and breathing art that covers it and changes from day to day.
Owned by the Knights of Malta and located across the street from the French Embassy in Malá Strana, the Lennon Wall stands as a monument to art, self-expression, peace and love. Visitors and passersby are able to freely walk up to the wall and paint a message to the world. But it wasn’t always this way.
When Communism ruled Prague prior to the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Western music was banned in the city; especially music by John Lennon, who often sang about freedoms that didn’t exist in Communist states. After Lennon’s death in December 1980, he became a hero to Czech youth, who painted his portrait, along with various graffiti and lyrics from Beatles songs, on this wall as an act of defiance against the Communist authorities.
In the years following, a cat-and-mouse game developed between the young, Czech activists who painted on the wall, risking prison time for “subversive activities against the state,” and the Communist police who would repeatedly whitewash over the wall in an attempt to keep it clean and silence the voice of opposition. Despite the police’s attempts, the wall would quickly fill up again, at first with lyrics and odes to Lennon, and then with hopes, dreams and feelings of the people.
After the Velvet Revolution in late 1989 ended 41 years of Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia, the wall remained as a monument to Lennon’s ideas on peace and as a testament to free speech, as it does today.
One week prior to our visit to the wall, it was completely painted over in pure white by a group of art students in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17, 2014, leaving only the phrase “wall is over” painted on it. The Knights of Malta initially filed a criminal complaint for vandalism against the students, which they later retracted after discovering it was an art project designed to encourage younger generations to leave their mark and artwork on the wall.
We were concerned that we’d missed a piece of history and that we’d show up to a blank wall. However, we arrived to see that the spirit of freedom and love is still alive and well, as the wall was almost covered in art in just a few days, with the “wall is over” phrase edited to say, “war is over.” In fact, we contributed our own art to the wall after meeting a few friendly locals with extra cans of spray paint. It was a very liberating experience. Click here for photos from the wall.