The John Lennon Wall is one of Prague’s top sights. Even in the dead of winter, tourists flock to it to photograph themselves standing in front of the colorful graffiti. In the summer, everyone wants to add their own contribution to the wall, which has led to it being repainted white periodically.

This is oddly reminiscent of the communist era. Originally, the wall was an important protest against the regime. The music of John Lennon and of The Beatles was forbidden in communist Czechoslovakia, but it was smuggled into the country (along with other Western music) and made a huge impact. The Beatles were very popular in Czechoslovakia, as indeed they still are, and the fact that their music was banned by the government made them all the more attractive. John Lennon was particularly popular.

When John Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan on December 8, 1980, he was viewed as a hero by young Czechs. They chose this wall, in the Mala Strana district, to paint pictures of Lennon, as well as to write his song lyrics and various other tributes to him. The authorities painted the wall white. The protestors came back and added more graffiti. The authorities painted the wall white. And on it went; even though a guard was posted, and security cameras installed, the protestors were determined to have their say.

On November 17, 1989, the Czechs gained freedom from the communist regime. It was now safe to paint on the John Lennon Wall, and that is just what the Czechs and the newcomers to the city did. It soon became a place where anyone who wanted to pay tribute to John Lennon and/or The Beatles could come and paint or write with impunity. The Communist days – when prison was the punishment for writing on the wall – were over.

The wall itself is not public property. It is owned by the Knights of Malta, and this organization has been responsible for many repaintings of the wall. However, the Knights of Malta have come to realize that the wall cannot be left white for long; someone is bound to add a painting or a quote to it. Now, the wall remains covered in graffiti, with tourists adding more every day.

The sad truth about the wall now is that it has very little to do with John Lennon. There are paintings of Lennon, and quotes from him, but these are quickly covered up by scribblings of (for example) “I was here 2015” or “K + A 4ever”. Rather than a form of protest, it is one of those touristy things that visitors do, along with trying absinthe and making a wish at the John of Nepomuk memorial on the Charles Bridge.

Occasionally, a tribute to John Lennon himself will appear on the wall, usually at the top, where it is difficult to reach. These tributes tend to be larger, and thus more visible. Recently, a fan or a group of fans created a stunning peace sign made of mosaic tile and fixed it to the wall, creating a work of art that is bound to remain while the designs around it constantly change.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon