A white flag flying from the Brooklyn Bridge in July (screenshot via YouTube)

A surrendering borough, terrorism, prank, or art? Speculation flew following the July 22 early morning exchange of two star-spangled banners that regularly wave atop the Brooklyn Bridge for all-white replicas. Now the circumstances of that mysterious swap — which quickly made headlines and brought on a flurry of public statements from elected officials as well as intense police measures — may finally be solved. The New York Times is reporting that German artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke have taken credit for what they’re calling an artistic act meant to celebrate “the beauty of public space.”

Despite the publicity surrounding the appearance of the white flags, it went unnoticed that their appearance coincided with the date on which John Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, died in 1869. In an interview with the Times, Leinkauf and Wermke claim that the German engineer, who spent much of his life in their home base of Berlin, inspired the replacement of the flags: Roebling “moved to the States because he couldn’t realize his dreams here in Germany, and the bridge for us is a symbol of freedom and creative opportunity.”

Still from the video Wermke and Leinkauf submitted to the New York Times to prove their involvement (via nytimes.com)

Despite the cultural gap to which the artists attribute the misinterpretations of the flag swap (officials have gone so far as to subpoena a parody Twitter account), Leinkauf and Wermke insist that the removal of the original stars and stripes was executed with respect and care. The artists made sure to fold the flags ceremonially, “following the United States flag code,” they said, and promise their eventual return.

In the meantime the pair are considering legal advice.

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Alix Taylor

Alix Taylor is a former intern at Hyperallergic and a comparative literature major at Brown University. Her work has been published on BurnAway and her mother's fridge. Sometimes she tweets.

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