German Artists Stake Claim to Brooklyn Bridge White Flag 'Art'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Berlin-based art duo Matthias Wermke (left) and Mischa Leinkauf. (Deutsche Welle/Youtube)

A pair of German artists came forward on Tuesday to claim they replaced the American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge with white ones last month — all in the name of art. 

Berlin-based Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke said Tuesday that they hoisted the hand-sewn white flags onto the 131-year-old bridge's neo-gothic stone towers as a celebration of public art in "the global center of creativity." They said they switched the flags early on July 22 to commemorate the 145th anniversary of German-born Brooklyn Bridge architect John August Roebling's death.

The art duo made a case for the nobility of their actions and said they handled and folded the flag with respect — but  NYPD officials continue to categorize the act as a crime.

Just last Friday, during an appearance on CBS This Morning, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the NYPD had a good idea who exchanged the flags, but needed more proof before making an arrest. 

A spokesman for the NYPD said the department is aware of the artists' claim. Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis said the investigation is continuing. Detectives, he said, are trying to determine if more than two people were involved in the complex flag-switch operation.

A mysterious white flag flies above the Brooklyn Bridge.

If the artists have the flags, he said, "we certainly would love to have them back."

Mayor Bill de Blasio has called the security breach "a wake-up call."

The NYPD has officers stationed overseas, but Davis did not say whether there are any in Berlin. He said a potential arrest involving suspects from Germany would be done through Interpol, the international police organization.

Wermke's and Leinkauf's website says they are artists who attempt to draw attention to public spaces that people often take for granted. Apparently this wasn't the first time the German artists used the Brooklyn Bridge for one of their projects; the two have photographs from 2007 that show they attached balloons to the cables of the bridge.

The German artists, who first made their claim of responsibility to The New York Times, said they were flooded with media inquiries and wouldn't be able to immediately respond to an interview request.

With reports from the Associated Press.


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Comments [8]

CB from West Orange, NJ

There is not a chance that the Germany authorities would extradite their citizens for this escapade. The police officers who were charged with guarding the bridge should be reprimanded. Time has long since for the media to move onto something of real importance.

Aug. 17 2014 09:33 PM

I think these Germans might want to read a history book to find out why substituting the American flag for the white flag of surrender is humorless and callous, to say nothing of tasteless.

Aug. 13 2014 02:51 PM
Konny from Astoria

I wonder why graffiti artists making their mark on bridges and buildings are not given so much attention. Its pretty much the same crime, vandalism on city/state property, same danger to the artists (potential fall from high place). I guess the difference is that this act actually showed the incompetence of the overpaid NYPD very publicly. This alone makes me support the artists, although the art they crated is a bit unimpressive.

Aug. 13 2014 01:03 PM
Francis from Brooklyn

T from Queens makes good points--especially his last one. I work in the arts and am on the side of free expression, but not when it can mindlessly harm others. Had the artists fallen, it probably would have been onto the roadway, or worse, onto pedestrians or bikers below the towers. Visitors are welcome to enjoy our city, which does not include altering its landmarks, especially one as cherished as the Brooklyn Bridge. Foreigners don't get to take down the host country's flag and hoist up another of their choosing. And why a white flag? Since when is white the color that celebrates art? Who are they kidding? Their recklessness and disrespect undermine any artistic statement they might have been attempting. I don't see any point in jailing whoever did this, but they should be forced to pay restitution to NYC taxpayers who've had to underwrite their prank.

Aug. 13 2014 12:37 PM

It would cost MORE to go after them and keep them in prison. So...what were you saying about damages?

When was the last time an artist died for displaying their art?

AND I don't think there has ever been a case where an artist was hurt doing somethign illegal and won for damages!

Sounds like someone has been buying into the fox bullshit about over zealous lawsuits. facts?

Aug. 13 2014 11:20 AM
Sassy Lou from NYC

I could give a rats ass about going after these artists. It's victimless crime...and therefore NO CRIME!
Especially one NOT WORTH spending time, money and incarcerating these artists.

Do you know why you pay so much taxes in NYS versus other states? Because we have to support stupid ass police shit like this so they can make money for the privatized prisons!

yep..go ahead WASTE MORE OF YOUR TAX DOLLARS on stunts. In the just goes back to the private prisons!

I'm sure those people on Long Island and Manhattan just love paying $6000 a year in property taxes on 2000 sq ft homes. Yet in other states..same property... $80 a YUP GO AHEAD!!!

Make it more inaccessable to live here.

Aug. 13 2014 11:15 AM
Eric S. from MD

if they are guilty send them to Rikers for their vandalism.

Aug. 13 2014 10:12 AM
T from Queens from Queens

I have no sympathy for these people. If they had fallen off the bridge during their little stunt, first responders would have been forced to rescue them at risk to the responders and cost to the city. They might even have sued the city for expenses after they got hurt. As it is, we had to fund an expensive investigation. I would be interested to know what German authorities would have done had they performed this stunt on a German bridge.

Also, if no one can understand the statement that you are trying to make, then it is pointless.

Aug. 13 2014 08:22 AM

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