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German artists who planted flags on the Brooklyn Bridge have done this sort of thing before

Howard Halle

It was the stunt seen ’round the world: Last month, New Yorkers were startled to see white flags atop the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge in lieu of the usual stars and stripes. Some people were mystified and others freaked out over the high-profile breach of security. And as it turned out, the flags weren’t white exactly, but rather bleached out versions of old glory. So flag desecration got thrown into the mix of paranoia and perplexity surrounding the incident.

Cut to Tuesday, when news broke that two German artists—Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke—had come forward to claim responsibility. Speaking to the New York Times, they offered proof in the form of a video of their actions, and demurred that their piece had anything to do with terrorism. But if you really need to be convinced, take a look at the pair’s website, where they’ve posted earlier works, which are consistent with the Brooklyn Bridge escapade. You might call them two urban daredevils. They’ve climbed atop old factory smokestacks in Prague, and dangled from their arms on various construction cranes and highway overpasses around Berlin. They’ve even previously planted flags, as in a project around Vienna in which they hoisted specially designed banners above power pants, storage tanks and even an old World War II flak tower. Call it parkour as performance art.

They work at night without permission, and document the result in photos and videos. The whole extra-legal thing seems to be part of the point, but in any case, it doesn’t seem to have gotten them into too much trouble in Europe, where they’ve mostly worked. Of course, this ain’t Europe. Considering that the U.S. has an extradition treaty with Germany, and that the NYPD was globally embarrassed by the fact the someone managed to climb up not just one, but both of the Brooklyn Bridge towers without getting caught, it’s likely that Leinkauf and Wermke will wind up in a U.S. court. If they do, it will be interesting to see if all they get is a slap on the wrists, though don’t bet on it.

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