To the young backpacker, the John Lennon Wall in Prague is a quirky and colourful canvas in an otherwise regal, fairy-tale city of cobblestones and gothic spires. Located on Velkopřevorské náměstí, directly across from the French Embassy, the wall provides a whimsical contrast to everything around it, giving a youthful life to a city as old as time.
However, to a local who has seen a few decades, the John Lennon Wall is much more than meets the eye. It is a constant reminder and an ever-evolving symbol of everything that was won in the Velvet Revolution. Democracy. Freedom.
So why is this wall relevant?
Well, In case you’re not caught up on your 20th century Czechoslovakian history… (I keep this brief, I promise)
Following a coup d’etat in post-Nazi 1948 and before 1989’s Velvet Revolution, the former whole of Czechoslovakia was governed by single-party communist rule. On November 17, 1989, in an act against the regime, Prague students planned a 200 000 person demonstration that would end up being suppressed by riot police. In reaction to this suppression, many more demonstrations would be planned and held until late that December. What began as a group of 200 000 demonstrators on the 17th grew to an estimated 500 000 the very next day.
Of course I’m skipping over a few details here but, in short, the pressure from these demonstrations, as well as a nationwide strike, forced the entire top leadership of the Communist party to resign. The days and months following this resignation saw a dismantling of the one-party state, the appointment of a largely non-communist government, and, in June 1990, Czechoslovakia’s first democratic elections since just after WWII.
The entire shebang was largely non-violent and, because of this, dubbed the Gentle Revolution or, as it is more commonly known, The Velvet Revolution.
So, how exactly does John Lennon fit in to a Central European country’s peaceful fight for democracy?
Well, you’ll be keen to discover, despite having a symbol of a country’s democracy named after him, John Lennon never once set foot in Prague. Yet, despite this, his ideas about freedom made him a hero to the pacifist youth revolting against communism.
Under communist rule, western pop songs were banned in Prague; particularly those of John Lennon, whose ideas doubled by his popularity were antithetical to the communist platform. After his murder in 1980, Lennon’s mythical status was amplified to young Czech’s and, despite risking a prison sentence for doing so, revolutionaries painted his face on a wall in Mala Strana, along with other graffiti protesting the regime. This act of defiance and the growing movement against the single-party state was cheekily dubbed “Lennonism”.
In response, the police repeatedly attempted to whitewash the wall, but to no avail as the same graffiti kept appearing. Even when the police installed surveillance cameras and posted a guard would the graffiti still find its way back.
After the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, the wall remained as a national (and dare I say international) monument to free speech. What started as a non-violent rebellion and revolution turned into a colorful reminder of the power of the people.
Not to mention a testament to the power of music, don’t you think?
The John Lennon Wall Today
Let me preface this section by reminding you that I am a huge John Lennon fan; exemplified by posts I’ve written like this one and this one and this one. So, when I head to any city that has an entire wall named after the man, well, I’m obviously going to make a bee-line. Nevertheless, when I tell you that you absolutely must not miss seeing the John Lennon wall in Prague despite the fact he was never actually there, put my biases aside and listen. If not John Lennon, do it for art, do it for democracy, do it for Instagram.
When you find yourself at the wall, you’ll notice that it stands as an evolving piece of art that is constantly morphed and added to by locals and tourists alike. When my friend Dezmond and I strolled up to it during a calm afternoon in May, there were a few people taking photos in front while a musician jammed out Beatles and Lennon tunes to everyone’s delight; a sight I feel is not too elusive to see.
Visitors with more preparation and forethought that I bring with them a can of spray paint to add their own message or symbol of peace, while those who didn’t simply take a self-guided tour around the art in an attempt to decipher one addition from the next.
It is a wall of revolution, a collage of peace, and a symbol of democracy.
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