John Lennon Wall: The Legend and the Legacy

Admirers spend time visiting the Lennon Wall. © Lee Daley

In Prague, my husband and I were searching for the John Lennon Wall. “Just turn down the path along the river and follow the road over the bridge for about twenty minutes,” a local teenager told us as he gestured toward a riverside path below the Charles Bridge. Dressed in tattered jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket, he could have passed for a local almost anywhere. “Yes, that’s right,” he shouted as we followed his lead leaving behind the castles and cathedrals of central Prague.

En route, we crossed over yet another bridge — this one colloquially called the Love Bridge. Here, couples placed padlocks on the bridge rails as a testament to their enduring love. The ritual includes carving initials on the locks before securing them to the bridge and then, with a kiss or two, flinging the keys into the canal waters to watch the ripples flow outward. Adorned with so many locks, the bridge appeared in danger of collapsing. Somehow though, the idea of enduring love seemed like a good omen.

Dressed in white, a bride points to the waters below where the keys to the couple’s love lock have been tossed. © Lee Daley

As if on cue, the melodic sounds of guitar music soon filled the air. As we drew nearer, a male voice rang out: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” Following the music, we soon reached a secluded square. We were at the John Lennon Wall where a rainbow of graffiti seemed about to explode upon an expansive wall. Late afternoon sun cast its golden light upon the colors, adding a brilliant sheen.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” © Lee Daley

With his guitar case spread open at his feet, a young, shaggy-haired musician offered a moving tribute to Lennon. Amidst the decorative imagery behind him, one image stood out: a large red heart inscribed with the Sixties’ signature phrase, “Peace & Love.” The anonymous artist had brought the decades-old phrase into more recent times with the date — 2014– scratched beneath the heart. Beatles’ lyrics, messages of hope, signatures, and dates all paid tribute to the beloved icon.

Near the heart, another drawing caught my attention: an almost life-size sketch of Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon was depicted with long hair, Ono was dressed in her legendary black. As the singer’s voice flooded over us, my husband and I held hands. We were a captive audience wrapped in the nostalgia of the past and engulfed in our love of the present.

The Legend: Located in the secluded square across from the French Embassy, the Wall became a symbol of protest against the then-Communist government when an unknown student artist painted an image of Lennon along with Beatles’ lyrics shortly after Lennon’s 1980 assassination. The Wall today is an ever-changing canvas. Back in the 80s, the government forbade Western images so authorities whitewashed the wall daily only to find protestors returning night after night to, once again, scrawl symbolic messages of freedom. “Imagine” lyrics became the mantra; Lennon, the inspiration. Almost overnight, it became the John Lennon Wall.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”– Yoko Ono. © Lee Daley

Like the ripples beneath the Love Bridge, Lennon’s message reverberates still. His namesake wall stands as a call to peace and unity. For the first time, when viewing the John Lennon Wall, I saw graffiti as an art form, a call to action. The experience taught me the value of graffiti as an outlet for those who have no other voice. Surely, this is a thing of beauty.

After our departure, I found myself thinking of Yoko and the haunting image of her and John I had seen painted on the Wall. Many years have passed since she witnessed her husband’s assassination. I learned the couple met in 1966 when John visited an exhibition of Yoko’s art at London’s Indica Gallery. Inseparable until his death, Yoko was highly influential in John’s personal and artistic development.

More symbolic images depicted on the Wall. © Lee Daley

The lyrics of “Imagine” were inspired by Ono’s poetry in her 1964 book, “Grapefruit.” In the book’s poem “Cloud Piece,” Yoko wrote, “Imagine the clouds dripping; dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” Lennon later said: “Imagine should be credited to Lennon/Ono.” Clearly this love song to humanity can be said to be the creative peak of John and Yoko’s professional partnership. Yoko Ono is now credited as co-writer of “Imagine.”

On December 5, 1980, Lennon gave his final interview to Jonathan Cott of Rolling Stone Magazine. Looking back on his seminal song, he said: “We’re not the first to say ‘imagine no countries’ or ‘give peace a chance’, but we’re carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation… and that’s our job. Not to live according to somebody else’s idea of how we should live.” Three days later, Lennon was assassinated.

Ono’s liner notes for the Imagine Album read: “The “Imagine” piece was created with immense love and concern for the children of the world.”

The last years of the couple’s time together involved many peace projects. For Yoko, the torch’s flame has never dimmed. Her Wishing Tree Project began in 1981 a year after John’s death. A Wish Tree –inspired by Yoko–recently stood in my California hometown. Every branch was blanketed in white tags proclaiming peace and accompanied by expressions of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.“

The wall was originally known as the ‘Crying Wall,’ where people would post their comments against the then rigid government and authority. During the Communism era, Western pop songs were banned. People could even be imprisoned for playing them. John Lennon’s lyrics represented freedom and soon captured the imagination of Prague’s youth. The Wall was named for Lennon after his death in 1980 when crowds came to mourn his death and celebrate his ideals.

A romantic view over the Vlaclav River in Prague. © Lee Daley

After the Velvet Revolution signaled the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Czech Republic gained independence with the creation–in 1993–of two separate nations: Slovakia and the Czech Republic with its capital city, Prague. A student march took place on November 17, 1989, giving birth to the “Velvet Revolution” because–after that date–not a single person died in the rebellion. By 1989, the John Lennon Wall had served as an inspiration to the country’s oppressed citizens for nine years.

The Legacy: The same hope that fueled Prague’s student activism decades ago, the same lyrics that shouted “Imagine all the people living life in peace” have inspired actual Lennon Walls all over the world. Most express democracy demands for Hong Kong. Walls have appeared in Vancouver, Seoul, London, Taipei, Toronto, Tokyo, Calgary and Berlin. More than 150 Lennon Walls can be found on Hong Kong Island, despite efforts of police to remove them. During the 2014 democracy protests in Hong Kong, a Lennon Wall even appeared outside the Hong Kong Central Government Offices. To this day, more continue to be created.

Throughout her life, Yoko Ono has preached world peace, gender equality, and acceptance for all. To this day, well into her 80s, Ono is a working artist and activist — she has let nothing, especially age, stop her. Ono is a role model for us all. In honor of her late husband, Ono erected the Imagine Peace Tower in 2007 on an island outside Reykjavik, Iceland. This outdoor structure sends a light beam high into the sky each year between the days of Lennon’s birthday and his date of death. At its base, a container holds many of the wishes that were pinned on Wish Trees around the world.

Read more about Yoko’s Wish Tree Project and where it can be seen around the world here: https://travelexaminer.net/yoko-ono-wish-tree/

More Change: In late October, 2022, the Wall was once again changed when artists from the European Union and Ukraine repainted it. A portion of the wall will remain available for members of the public to post their thoughts, draw images and leave signatures.

The John Lennon Wall is located in the Malá Strana area of Prague, very close to the Charles Bridge and the French Embassy. The Wall itself is the outer wall of Maltese Garden. Malá Strana is one of the oldest areas in the city, a calm oasis with hidden gardens, parks and ponds. Nestled underneath Prague Castle, its cobblestone streets are lined with picturesque medieval houses, remarkable palaces, churches, shops and restaurants. The exact address is: Velkopřevorské náměstí, 118 00 Praha 1- Malá Strana.

I visited the John Lennon Wall in 2014 so the photos here represent that time. An earlier version of this story appears on Epicurean Destinations where you can view dozens of award-winning national and international travel destination articles. Visit here: https://epicureandestinations.com/

Related Post: Another iconic contributor to groundbreaking art and the art world is the legendary Peggy Guggenheim: Read her story here: Peggy Guggenheim at Home in Venice.

Related Post: And another groundbreaking artist here: Georgia O’Keeffe.

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Bay Area Travel Writers tell stories through media, old and new — newspapers, magazines, broadcasts, blogs, videos, books, and online publications.

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Lee Daley

Travel writer, photographer, editor, I cover travel, culture, art & architecture. Featured in NY Times. Share the journey at https://epicureandestinations.com