Niclase Steigera and Benjamina Wittiga, two German tourist brothers who were accused of spray painting Prague’s Charles Bridge, were sentenced for their crime; a suspended sentence of one-year, a 100,000CZK fine, and a five-year Czech Republic expulsion.
While the younger brother Steiger admitted to his guilt in the crime, elder brother Wittiga claimed innocence, which was confirmed by the younger Steiger brother. Judge Pavla Hajkova was unmoved by the elder brother’s plea of innocence. The judge cited the testimony of two witnesses who testified to seeing both brothers engaging in the act of vandalism. The brothers claim that Wittiga’s motivation was his loss of a civilian position with the German Army.
The sentence came at the end of the brother’s appeal, having already been charged, tried, and sentenced. One brother’s innocence was the basis for the appeal.
Vandalism seems to be on the rise worldwide. In September of 2019, The EU embassy in Tel Aviv was vandalized by Israeli right-wing extremists, writing, “German Money Kills Jews,” and “EU gets out” in spray paint on the doors of the embassy.
American Otto Warmer was infamously arrested in North Korea in 2016 for the crime of stealing a propaganda sign. He was imprisoned, tortured, released in a coma, and died as a result of his incarceration.
Prague is not a crime-torn city. Prague’s crime index is only 24.65. The highest risk of crime seems to come from corruption and bribery, with a 53.61 rating. Vandalism was second with a crime rating of 37.63, still considered very low.
But vandalism is pervasive across the board in Europe, perhaps more so than ever. The Sun UK reports that of France’s 42,285 churches, 875 had been desecrated in 2018. Sadly, this report came just a week before the Notre Dame fire, which devoured much of the 850-year-cathedral. The same year, 59 cemeteries were reportedly vandalized.
And vandalism of this sort is costly.
While the governing authority of London, The Corporation of London, reportedly spends only £1,500 per year correcting or cleaning up after graffiti vandals, the borough of Wandsworth spends about £625,000.
Complicating the issue is the rise of graffiti as so-called street art. Made popular by mysterious artists like Banksy, the formerly counter-cultural method of gangland territoriality has become a cultural boon all over the world. Street art is dating back to the time of prehistoric man’s cave paintings, and considered by its proponents to be beautiful, artistic, even majestic. Of course, some works do have these qualities, many of them quite striking, painting one’s name on a magnificent historic structure like the Charles Bridge is something else again.
Nobody tried to make the case that the two German brothers who were creating art sentenced this week. They were creating crime, and they were captured, tried, and punished for that crime. It’s a good lesson for anyone from any country not to vandalize the treasures they come to visit.