Part 4: John Lennon Wall
The western side of the Vltava river doesn’t have as many of Prague’s notable landmarks or buildings (the next blog will talk in detail about the main one: Prague Castle). What it does have, however, is a curious homage to a band who were – maybe still are – revered in the Czech Republic. This is in spite of them having no obvious links to the country.
I learnt in Kazakhstan about the global appeal of the Beatles and their music becoming an underground means of resistance to communist regimes around the world, particularly amongst the younger generation.
John Lennon became an iconic figure after being murdered in New York in 1980. Soon after, a portrait of the Liverpudlian was painted on a wall across from the French Embassy. It was later joined by lyrics from Beatles songs.
As you can imagine, this free expression for Western culture was frowned upon by the Czech authorities, who still sympathised with Moscow even as the Soviet empire was coming into terminal difficulties. The wall was painted over and returned to its original form.
Then it was re-painted by young Czechs. The communists whitewashed the wall. Protestors painted more slogans, pictures and anti-government phrases back onto it. Once again, the authorities removed them.
This tit-for-tat came to a head in 1988 when students writing their grievances on the wall and security police reportedly clashed on the nearby Charles Bridge. This was the last battle for the wall, with the government falling soon after. The new, West-leaning powerbrokers had more important things to worry about than to paint walls, so the John Lennon Wall remained.
It remains to this day, though in a completely different form. The wall is regularly graffitied, decorated and coloured with more Lennon images, peace messages and random tourist scrawls.
The Beatles have inspired millions – just around the corner from here is a Beatles-themed restaurant – and their music transcends generations. The wall is just one example of how this group infiltrated the hearts and minds of many who weren’t legally allowed to listen to their songs.
The John Lennon Wall is more than just a tribute, however. It is a strange and fascinating addition to Prague’s art scene. It is a symbol of protest and a reminder of how small, seemingly insignificant protests can succeed with devotion and a strong message. It is a continually-changing construct which is almost guaranteed to look different each time you see it.
Imagine that, John Lennon!
Love you all