Nestled in the Malá Strana district, a seemingly ordinary wall was destined to become an extraordinary symbol of rebellion, love, and freedom.
In the 1960s, as the world swayed to the tunes of The Beatles and embraced their message of peace, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia clamped down on Western influences, imposing strict censorship and banning Western music. However, the youth of Prague, yearning for change, found solace and inspiration in the subversive lyrics of John Lennon.
On December 8, 1980, the world was stunned by Lennon's assassination. To pay tribute to this iconic figure, an anonymous artist in Prague painted a portrait of Lennon on the wall, accompanied by the lyrics of "Imagine," which embodied a message of peace and love. This marked the birth of the Lennon Wall.
Throughout the 1980s, the wall evolved into a vibrant canvas, as individuals added their own messages, artwork, and poems in defiance of the oppressive regime. The wall became a symbol of hope and unity, as artists and activists risked arrest and persecution to make their voices heard.
The Communist authorities, threatened by the wall's growing popularity, repeatedly painted over it in an attempt to silence the rebellious spirit. Undeterred, the people of Prague would return, armed with brushes and paint, to reclaim their wall, spreading the message of freedom even further.
In 1989, the Velvet Revolution swept through Czechoslovakia, leading to the end of 41 years of Communist rule. The Lennon Wall played a crucial role, inspiring countless citizens to stand up against tyranny. When the regime finally fell, the wall stood proudly as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the people.
Today, the Lennon Wall is a protected cultural site, standing tall as a vibrant symbol of love, peace, and resilience. It is a living, breathing piece of history that continues to evolve with every stroke of paint. Visitors from around the world are drawn to this extraordinary site, adding their own voices to the ever-growing chorus of hope and unity.
And so, the story of the Lennon Wall endures, showcasing the power of art, the strength of the human spirit, and the timeless message of John Lennon's music – a message that captivates and inspires, even in the darkest of times.
Timeline of the Lennon Wall in Prague
Depending on who is telling the story, the first traces of writing appeared on the wall in the 1960’s. They weren't just aimless ponderings, rather the words were for Jan Werich, a Czech actor and screenwriter.
Werich moved people through his absurdist and politically challenging performances, more often than not going against political norms despite having restrictions imposed on his productions.
In 1967, after the Czech Literární noviny was discontinued many took to the streets to protest it. One such way they fought back was through writing inscriptions on walls all throughout the city.
On the 20th-21st of August, 1968 the Czech Republic was invaded by armies of states belonging to the Warsaw pact to put a stop to the “Prague Spring” movement. This invasion was aimed at a political liberalization group fighting for democracy, a threat to the USSR.
In 1969, after the Czech Republic’s occupation ended, poems and messages were plastered all throughout the city. Due to the sheer amount of inscriptions it was said that Prague was put through years of work to remove them all.
Writing on houses and walls can be traced through the 1970’s from accounts by Jiří Bareš, a Czech musical artist. Through this period, the city was covered in etchings, commenting on policial and social issues.
In the 1970’s, the Lennon Wall was called the “Wailing Wall”. It was here that love poems were written and dedicated to those special to the artists.
On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed, becoming a revered symbol of amity and anti-violence. His band, The Beatles was extremely influential and sang songs about peace and harmony for the world. Due to the Communist Regime this type of western music was banned, but Czech people still found a way to listen and become influenced.
The first addition to the wall was a stone slab that acted as a memorial to Lennon, reading “For John Lennon” with a cross above his name. It is said that the slab came from an old water fountain but bore a striking resemblance to a gravestone. From this point on, gifts, flowers, and offerings were left at the stone.
In the beginning of 1981, the slab was given proper engravings as it outlined when Lennon was born, when he died, and included a picture of him. Before the graffitti made its way to this particular wall, Beatles lyrics popped up in other locations around the city.
Later in 1981, the wall was painted green, attributed to the 16th Congress of the Communist Party. This act wiped away all of the writing and poetry that had been accumulating thus far, further taking away the speech of the people.
Once the wall was repainted, the peaceful Beatles lyrics were replaced. In their wake, were messages calling for rebellion and speaking out against the ruling form of government. Their outrage was continually covered up in different shades of grey and green.
On the 8th of December, 1981, on the first anniversary of Lennon’s death, the Czech youth gathered and wrote poetry in opposition of the Communist Regime. The government, in an attempt to control the resistance kept painting over the wall, but the Czech’s put posterboard over it and continued on.
Lennon’s enthusiasts stayed loyal throughout the years, holding meetings near Čertovka. Yearly, marches were organized but were continually disrupted by the police in an effort to decrease their impact. Media wars were waged against the people honoring Lennon, calling them alcoholics and claiming they were trying to push western ideals into the country. The media would go on to call what they were afflicted by as “Lennonism”.
Going into the mid-1980’s, the Lennon Wall was the starting point for most of the political resistances rising around the city. These protests were reaching the size of their predecessors that had taken place in the 70’s.
In the later half of the 1980’s the Communist Party realized that the support for Lennon and resistance was not dying down. In order to placate the population, they decided to organize Youth Folk concerts specially approved to overshadow the Lennon Wall demonstrations on the anniversaries of his death. The party even went so far as thinking about commemorating Lennon with a plaque in Velkopřevo Square.
In the year 1989, the John Lennon Peace Club, or (MKJL) met and soon after the poster board was taken down from the walls. The wall was then given back to The Order of the Knights of Malta who decided to go through with a restoration process for the damaged brick. The John Lennon Peace Club then got the Knights of Malta to have František Flašar paint the portrait of John Lennon. Diverting from the original idea of just having a portrait of Lennon and minimal decoration, people soon began to add phrases about peace and resistance to it.
Due to the Velvet Revolution which lasted from November 17th 1989 - December 29th, 1989 Communists now left the wall alone and it became a center of free speech and expression. This Revolution signaled the switch towards Democracy and the wall became a place for people to paint and write. The face of John Lennon and the Imagine Peace Sign became the trademark image of the wall but disappeared under new layers of paint.
In November of 2000, an art group called Rafani repainted the wall green, adding the word “Love.” This demonstration, reflective of a Czech political struggle, didn’t last long due to the government asking the owner’s of the wall to repaint it. The wall not soon after was filled once again.
In 2003, Yoko Ono visited the wall and left a message on it.
In the middle of the night on the 16th of November, 2014, the wall was repainted in white with the words “The Wall Is Over”, (which paraphrases John Lennon’s “War is over”). This action caused widespread public outrage, media coverage and a lawsuit against the unknown perpetrators. Not soon after, a group of art students came forward and explained that it was supposed to be representative of the wall taking on a clean slate, as to them it was losing its original meaning. The clean white space was also to signify giving a free space to the current generation. They did this in reference to the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling, and the liberation that came with it. After this explanation the charges were dropped and by the end of the year the wall was already fully covered with new writings and drawings.
In 2014, the John Lennon Wall became a major inspiration for the rebellions in Hong Kong, as different walls with a likeness were popping up in other countries. This idea of a designated space acts as a place for citizens to voice their complaints and to try to create change.
In March 2019, the wall was painted to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of the communist holdings. In April, people from the Extinction Rebellion, in protest of climate change painted over the wall.
In the summer of 2019 there was a struggle on the wall between Pro-Beijing and Hong Kong due to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It was then repainted.
In October of 2019 the wall underwent another restoration process which removed layers of paint from the past 50 years and 10 cm from the wall.
In September of 2022, the wall was repainted again, this time adding a huge mirror with a portrait of Lennon to the middle to the design. In addition, 29 artists from all over Europe came on the unveiling to provide art for the wall.