The Lennon Wall on Prague’s Kampa island has been a place for messages of peace and love since the death of former Beatle John Lennon in 1980. But recently, it has been being filled with vulgarities, obscene pictures and nonsensical scribbling.
The Order of the Knights of Malta owns the wall. They say that tour guides are offering tourists a chance to write on the wall as part of their tours, and even supplying spray paint and markers. Graffiti has now even spread to the trees surrounding the wall.
A place that has been a symbol of freedom of speech for decades might have to see some rules imposed due to the actions of tourists.
A criminal notice against an unknown person for suspicion of violation of property rights was filed by a lawyer for the Knights of Malta at the beginning of July.
“We have been unhappy about what’s going on around the Lennon Wall in recent months. What was originally a magical place is being destroyed by vandals who scribble on the wall with nonsense and often vulgarity,” Johannes Lobkowicz, Chancellor of the Czech Grand Priory of the Order of the Knights of Malta, said.
“We want to do something about it. During the summer, we will introduce a concept for returning the wall to a dignified state,” Lobkowicz said.
The order says that there has been a big increase in tourists at the wall since the beginning of this year, and tour guides have been encouraging graffiti without warning people that it is illegal.
The Maltese Knights are taking more steps to stabilize the situation around the Lennon Wall. A coordination meeting will soon take place with Prague 1 Mayor of Pavel Čižinský (Praha 1 Sobě), representatives of the Knights of Malta and a representative of an association of real estate owners.
Prague 1 is also preparing a campaign to warn tourists about inappropriate behavior that bothers local residents, Prague l spokeswoman Kateřina Písačková said, adding that the district wants to prevent improper behavior through education.
“We do not want this place to disappear due to current problems with undisciplined tourists. It has a considerable historical value, so we would like to warn visitors that certain types of behavior are annoying local residents, in whose interest the city district is acting,” she said.
The wall on one side of an enclosed garden is owned by the Roman Catholic religious group Sovereign Military Order of Malta, commonly called the Knights of Malta. The group traces its roots back to the Crusades.
They have permitted graffiti there since the 1980s. John Lennon was murdered in December 1980, and the wall after that became filled with lyrics of Beatles songs and portraits of Lennon. It was a lone outpost for free speech for almost a decade.
Before the Velvet Revolution, authorities would often repaint the wall, but new messages would soon appear.
The Lennon Wall was in the news in 2014 when a group of art students painted the entire wall white save for the phrase “Wall Is Over,” a variation on Lennon’s “War Is Over” campaign from the early 1970s, related to his 1972 song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
The Knights of Malta originally filed a criminal complaint against the students but later dropped it. The wall quickly acquired new Beatles-themed graffiti.
In March 2019, an international group of artists, with permission, painted the wall with messages in several languages to mark 30 years since the Velvet Revolution, and added a large portrait of Václav Havel.
That didn’t last long though, as a month later environmental activists took over the wall with a new set of messages as part of an international action against climate change, largely destroying the Havel portrait and Velvet Revolution reminders.
On May 1, an unknown artist helped to restore the wall to its original purpose with a large portrait of Lennon in black and white, based on a classic photo.