German artists say they raised white flags on Brooklyn Bridge to honour its architect

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 9:31pm


Two German artists have claimed responsibility for replacing American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge with faded white versions last month in an urban mystery that exposed holes in security at one of the city's most enduring landmarks.

Berlin-based Mischa Leinkauf and Mattias Wermke said 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 centre 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.

In a statement, the artists said they "were careful to treat the bridge and the flags with respect", but they did not address potential criminal liability from the project. They said they followed US Flag Code in handling of American flags they removed and were returning them.

The New York Police Department said it was aware of the artists' claims but would not confirm their validity or say whether investigators had identified the artists as suspects before they came forward.

Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis said the investigation was continuing. If the artists had the flags, he said, "we certainly would love to have them back".

Leinkauf and Wermke have scaled buildings, bridges and statues in a series of projects blurring the line of access to public works and spaces. In 2007, according to their website, they tied balloons to cables high above the Brooklyn Bridge roadway.

The day the flags went up, the police department's counterterrorism and intelligence chief said he believed four or five people scaled the towers and swapped the flags in the dead of night.

Deputy Commissioner John Miller said the people involved appeared to use aluminium cooking sheets to cover the lamps illuminating the American flags.

Video footage showed people walking on the bridge's footpath at about 3.10am, and the light on the bridge's Brooklyn tower flickered and went dark about 20 minutes later, Miller said. The same thing happens about 12 minutes later on the Manhattan tower, he said.