Mystery solved: rogue graffiti cleaner from Prague's Charles Bridge steps forward

A professional graffiti cleaner says he stepped in just in time to keep the damage from becoming permanent

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 02.08.2019 09:06:00 (updated on 25.09.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

Just as one of Prague’s monument keepers was starting to remove two-week-old graffiti from a pillar on Charles Bridge, it vanished overnight. Monument care experts have been concerned that the unauthorized work may have damaged the centuries-old stones, but the person responsible says he did his work just in time to prevent the paint from settling in permanently.

Professional graffiti remover Miloslav Černý has taken credit for the removal. He used high-pressure steam and an organic solvent called Graffitistop 2, which he claims is safe to use on sandstone.

Černý became concerned when he heard how long the removal would take, saying the paint would have been in place too long for a complete removal if the experts’ plan was followed.

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Graffiti on Charles Bridge. via Raymond Johnston

“Nothing happened for about 14 days, and because I knew it was a time limit, I went

there,” he told news server

The National Heritage Institute (NPÚ) took two weeks to approve a plan to remove the graffiti and stated that work would take an additional two weeks. The Technical Communications Administration (TSK), which is responsible for roads and bridges, was to oversee the project.

Restorer Jan Mjartan signed an agreement with TSK on July 26 to cover the cleaning, which was to be done by hand. He began work the next day with solvent and a brush.

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Restorers take samples of the stone to assess the damage. via Raymond Johnston

Černý said that the removal took about two hours, from 4 am to 6 am on the morning of July 28, significantly less time than the planned two weeks.

“I am convinced that every Czech wants Charles Bridge to look nice. That was my motivation, not to make fools of experts,” Černý said.

The city’s experts say the removal was not professional and has left traces. Černý claims the wet surface made it impossible to see such fine detail, and he has offered to finish the work for free.

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The outline of the graffiti can still be seen on Charles Bridge. via Raymond Johnston

He came forward because he heard the police were looking for the mystery cleaner. It is not clear if he will face charges, but a legal expert said earlier that if he acted “in good faith,” then punishment was unlikely.

Two German tourists, aged 23 and 30, painted a five-by-two meter logo in blue and black paint on one of the pillars on the Kampa side of Charles Bridge. They were caught in the act on the morning of July 16 and sentenced in an expedited procedure July 19. Both were expelled from the country and have to pay fines of 100,000 CZK each as well as 40,000 CZK in cleaning costs. They have now appealed to verdict.

Charles Bridge is one of the most heavily visited tourist attractions in Prague, though there are no exact figures as admission isn’t charged. The bridge undergoes quite a bit of damage. Aside from several incidents of large pieces of graffiti, people pen their initials on some of the stones and make other small marks.

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Tourists broke the hands off a statue on Charles Bridge. via Raymond Johnston

A metal grill with an image of St Jan Nepomucký has been constantly covered in “love locks,” which have to be removed with a power tool. This risks damage to the grill. People have also damaged the statues by trying to remove swords and other items from the figures. Hands have been broken off some of the statues by people climbing or attempting to grab onto them. Some statues have been attacked for religious reasons.

Charles Bridge was built in 1357 on orders from Emperor Charles IV to replace the previous Judith Bridge, which collapsed in a flood.

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