The situation around the Lennon Wall in Prague’s Malá Strana district has calmed down substantially since the wall reopened in November 2019 as an open-air art galley, but tourists are still writing on it.
Some of the tourists’ inscriptions are in support of Hong Kong, the Uyghur minority or other political causes, but many others are just initials, names and dates, or the occasional vulgar insult.
A plastic sign in Czech and English with some history of the all has added at the left end, and says it has been declared a “memorial place.” The sign does not forbid graffiti or noise. According to the new rules that began in November 2019, people should only write on the wall with a marker or chalk in reserved places, but these have not yet been specified.
A sign explaining the new rules should be posted soon, according to the Embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (aka the Knights of Malta), who own the wall.
The 300-year-old sandstone wall became a site of controversy in the summer of 2019 when all-you-can-drink tours would make it their last stop and give spray paint to tourists who would paint vulgar phrases and images there. People would also sell or rent markers, and buskers made noise that disturbed local residents.
The Knights of Malta addressed the problem by renovating the wall in October 2019 to remove layers of paint and them structurally stabilizing it. Artists led by Pavel Šťastný, who made the Civic Forum right after the Velvet Revolution and also made the new logo for the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, painted the new design on the wall.
The new design is still largely visible under the graffiti, and the Knights of Malta are satisfied with the situation.
“From our point of view, the transformation of the Lennon Wall into an outdoor gallery in the autumn calmed the situation. There have been fewer conflicts, traces of the rampage of alcohol ours, and there are no more vulgarisms on the wall,” Hedvika Čepelová, spokeswoman for the Knights of Malta, told daily Mladá fronta Dnes.
A new camera has been installed near the wall, and several cases of vandalism have been already been stopped. More cameras should be in place soon.
The Prague 1 district is helping to monitor the wall and enforce the rules.
“From Prague 1, we know that in the first phase, it was necessary to deal with dozens of cases when someone tried to damage the wall during the night. We are sorry that there are still people who need to destroy this beautiful place, and we will work with Prague 1 [to fix the situation],” Čepelová added.
The Knights of Malta plan to clean the wall cleaned of the marker messages and preserve the background paintings.
The wall has been a site for graffiti critical of the communist regime since the 1960s. After the murder of former Beatles member John Lennon in 1980 it became a place for Beatle song lyrics, portraits of Lennon, and messages and images relating to world peace.
Police in the 1970s and ’80s would often paint the wall over, but new messages would appear quickly.
The Knights of Malta had long permitted the wall to be used for peace messages, but by summer 2019 the situation had changed, and reluctantly they had to try to instill some order.
“We don’t want the place to become a cheap tourist attraction, where everyone could scribble nonsensical and dirty things. This was not a dignified state,” Johannes Lobkowicz, Chancellor of the Knights of Malta, said in the fall of 2019.
Prague’s Lennon Wall has inspired similar ones worldwide, particularly in Hong Kong where sticky notes are used to express sentiments on the walls. The Lennon Wall in Prague has become a popular place for tourists from Asia to show support for Hong Kong.
Graffiti has become an issue across the city. Municipal districts have been fighting random graffiti on buildings and public spaces, but also looking for more places to allow street art.