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

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.