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German artists say they planted white flags on the Brooklyn Bridge

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An artwork meant to celebrate 'the beauty of public space'

Wermke Leinkauf

A pair of German artists say that they're the ones responsible for the mystery that's been gripping New York since late last month: who replaced the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge with colorless, white copies. The stunt immediately captured the attention of New Yorkers, who couldn't miss the flags' change on their morning commutes. But beyond that, the flags' replacement also created cause for concern, as many — the NYPD included — saw it as a potential security threat that apparent vandals were able to sneak on top of the bridge unnoticed.

"We really didn’t intend to embarrass the police."

The artists, Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke, revealed their identify to the The New York Times, providing a video of the flags at night as evidence. Leinkauf and Wermke say that their work atop the bridge was meant to celebrate "the beauty of public space." Leinkauf's comments to the Times also suggest that they did not consider that the flags' replacement might be seen as a security issue.  "From our Berlin background, we were a little surprised that it got the reaction it did," Leinkauf says. "We really didn’t intend to embarrass the police."

Leinkauf and Wermke are now seeking legal advice, though it appears that New York has not yet decided to whether or not it will prosecute. "We don’t take these things lightly, or as a joke, or as art," a deputy police commissioner said of the stunt, according to the Times. Leinkauf and Wermke's previous work has, similarly, involved the two artists scaling large structures, often simply to photograph themselves hanging from them. They've even worked with the Brooklyn Bridge in the past, installing a bundle of balloons on it back in 2007.

The artists say that their handling of the removed American flags was respectful and that they were folded "following the United States flag code." They intend to return the flags in the future. "We always face the consequences," Leinkauf tells the Times. "This is part of the work, to have an open discussion. We just needed a little time to decide how to respond to the reaction."

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Watch The Verge's feature on 'the world's oldest subway tunnel', located in Brooklyn