What makes two people fall in love? This age old question still eludes the brightest minds of our generation. There are a variety of answers to this question, but none has proved absolute, and this alludes to the varying nature of love itself. Is love a state of being or is it an ongoing act that needs to be constantly proven? Whatever it may be, love is the culprit behind an old tradition that may gradually be seeing its end.
Paris, Circa 2008
The beautiful capital of France has been home to Parisians and tourists for many years, due to its alluring charm and innate majesty. Paris was the place you went to fall in love, be it with yourself or with someone else. A city that is drenched in rich cultural history, Paris was bound to be magnetic. Many tourists were attracted to the bridges that curved their way throughout the city around the beloved Seine: The Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archeveche to name a few. They offered a tranquil way of navigating the long river while simultaneously taking in the sights and people of Paris. To Parisians, the bridges are imbued with a history that transcends each of their lives.
From the oldest bridge built in 1602 (Pont Neuf) to one of the newer bridges like the Passerelle Simone De Beauvoir (which was officially opened in 2006). Each of these bridges is a historical landmark to native Parisians (as well as other French natives) and they add even more charm to a city already overflowing with it. In a city that oozes love and effortlessly embodies the ideals of romanticism, it was inevitable that one of the modern symbolizations of love would make its way to the city, and in 2008 that’s exactly what happened. The first few padlocks made their way to the Pont des Arts.
Padlocks of Love
Some readers may wonder what I mean when I say the padlocks made their way to the bridges. Can padlocks walk now? Is this the future? If you have no idea what I’m talking about then you must not have been slapped in the face by the 21st Century notions of love, bless your heart. In the past few years, it has become an increasing trend for couples, far and wide, to traveling safely to some of the most prestigious bridges in the world and lock their love in, literally. Couples purchase padlocks and engrave these with their names or endearing messages (probably about loving each other forever). Then they lock them to the rails of bridges. After this, the keys are tossed into the placid waters below. Since 2008, Paris has been one of the cities that has been ravaged the most by this resurfacing craze.
I say resurfacing because this is not a new phenomenon. This tradition dates back several years, although its origins are still under contention. Some believe that it started almost 100 years ago in a small town in World War I era Serbia and, of course, it began with two lovers. The tale goes that these two lovebirds were committed to each other and planned on getting married once Relja, the young man, returned from fighting in Greece. Nada, his lover, diligently awaited his return only to be told that Relja had fallen in love with another young woman in Greece and that he would not be returning home. Apparently, she died from heartbreak…not really the best way to go out.
I mean, there isn’t really a good way to die but from heartbreak? That seems like involuntary suicide to me. Anyway, the other girls from that small Serbian town of Vrnjačka Banja took a cue from the story of Nada and Relja. They decided it would be an extremely smart idea to inscribe their names along with that of their respective lovers onto padlocks and then subsequently lock these onto the rails of the Most Ljubavi bridge which ironically translates to the love bridge. This occurrence is the earliest known tradition of putting love locks on bridges.
That’s what some people believe. Others are under the impression that this tradition dates even further back, and is stemmed in old Chinese lore that says if two lovers lock a padlock and throw away the key their love will be rooted in the lock forever. This tradition is carried on to this day and can be seen in its full glory at Mount Huangshan. The story goes that two young lovers (there are always two young lovers in these stories) were forbidden from being married because the girl’s father wanted her to marry a rich man, not a pauper. So on the day of her wedding to some rich man, her young lover came and stole her away and they ran to Mount Huangshan said some words to each other and jumped over the cliff, carrying their love into death. Like before, this is not the best way to go out. It doesn’t even really make sense, yet somehow it is endearing to so many people and the reason for one of the longest standing modern traditions.
Since the dawn of the 21st Century, there has been a resurgence in the appearance of these love locks around the world. Most people thought it was a passing fad, but the tradition has grown in prominence each year. It seems the number of lovelorn people in the world was underestimated.
Where Are They?
Most people automatically assume that this tradition started in Paris, France. They also assume that the local Parisians are fond of this – we’ll delve into that later. The truth is these love padlocks can be found in varying locales and in varying forms: not just chained to bridges. Here is a quick look at some other popular locations:
In the heart of Italy, a modern tradition was reborn when a book was published by author Federico Moccia. His work inspired the resurgence of love locks on the Ponte Milvio. This has been cited by some people as the modern re-start of the love lock craze. Their popularity continued to grow in Rome until 2007 when a lamp post laden with many padlocks partially collapsed. This lamppost was an integral part of a scene crafted by Moccia, and thus it was quite popular among many lovers. Eventually, by late 2012, the city’s officials had to declare that all the locks along the Ponte Milvio be removed due to the increasing danger that the bridge might collapse under the weight of all those padlocks, or essentially under the weight of love.
Surprisingly enough, Nevada boasts of two locations that have growing love lock prominence. In the small town of Lovelock, Nevada (no relation, simply coincidence) residents and visitors (the few that they do get) leave love locks hanging between the support posts at the Lover’s Lock Plaza. The town has adopted the idea and encourages it seeing as it is a good source of tourism and revenue.
Just a few hundred miles away in Las Vegas, Nevada, a similar tradition is being undertaken within the famous Paris Hotel. Visitors (to both the hotel and to Las Vegas) place their padlocks on the walkways to the downsized model of the Eiffel Tower on the famed Vegas strip.
Italy, much like France has always been a home to some of the most romanticized beings. People here exude passion in everything they do, including how they express their love. It is no surprise that one of these ways translated into the use of love locks. It is not clear as to whether this was started by locals or tourists (statistical data leans towards tourists) but it became popular enough to draw the ire of the City council. They were not too happy that these padlocks compromised the architectural integrity of the Ponte Vecchio.
An astonishing 40,000 padlocks hang on the rails of the Hohenzollernbrücke bridge in Cologne, Germany. I’m not sure if this is more shocking because there are 40,000 people who thought their love would be cemented in space and time in the chamber of a padlock or if it’s more shocking that people allowed the bridge to amass 40,000 padlocks. The padlocks are said to have added an extra 2 tons of weight to the bridge but for now, people tolerate them because they haven’t outweighed their metaphoric representation of undying love.
To Love a Love Lock
Love locks have been received in varying ways, some countries embrace them, citing them as physical manifestations of love. In a world where love seems to gradually be fading away, they believe that even the slightest sign of it helps. Various countries and regions encourage their natives and tourists to purchase padlocks and continue the tradition, while others try to curb it before it gets out of control, or before it even begins at all.
For those advocating for the continued use of love padlocks, they see the illustrious future it has based on its alluring past. Allowing the use of these locks tends to bring in many love-hungry tourists, and even natives that want to imprint their undying love for history. The trickle down effect of these simple locks, no matter how useless they may be, is a boost to many economies.
Let’s map it out: First, there is an influx of tourism, and that spikes up the revenue for a country’s economy. Then there are the people who would want to buy locks on their way to bridges, lighthouses, trees (whatever they can hang a lock on). If you’re looking for an example of proof of this, look no further than the famed Trevi Fountain in Rome. City officials collect an approximate $1.4 million by collecting the change in the fountain each year, which they then donate to charity. With the increasing number of tourists and people who demand one simple good, there will be a correlative increase in people who need hotels, those who frequent cafes and so on. There is also the chance that it will create more jobs for those who want to sell padlocks (unless there is a monopoly of the market) and also for those who will be hired to maintain the sites where locks are posted.
You may wonder how much maintenance is required if the process is as simple as placing a padlock on a bridge. Surprisingly, a lot of maintenance goes into this. There is no real harm when it is one padlock or even a few placed sparingly apart. However, over time, the number of padlocks for some of these bridges was upwards of hundreds of thousands. This compounding number meant more weight and more strain on the railings and parapets of respective bridges. For those bridges that had intricate ironwork wrought for aesthetic purposes, the locks scratched and defaced them making them substandard in comparison to what they should have been. Most of these bridges have to be regularly maintained to ensure that they are still structurally safe. In addition, to this, some cities replace their railings regularly to avoid instances where they buckle under the weight of love and fall injuring passing boats below.
Like every good argument, there are pros and cons that constantly oppose each other. One of the major downsides of the love padlock is the sheer weight of love. It might have been fine had it been one padlock attached to one bridge. However, as is basic human nature, we latch onto things that we may not even understand or believe, and then sooner or later they blow up into worldwide trends. The problem ballooned out of proportion when the number of people placing padlocks on bridges around the world skyrocketed. The issue was, that most of these bridges could no longer bear the weight of the many padlocks that had been attached to them. Take the bridges in Paris for instance, these bridges are years old and steeped in cultural significance and now here they are subject to a modern fad of symbolic love. To most Parisians, the padlocks are an affront to the natural beauty of the bridges and the unobstructed view of the Seine they were so used to but even worse than that they believed it was an affront on love.
To many French citizens, love is not a thing to be locked up. They believed that padlocks were the worst possible symbolism to represent love. The notion behind the padlocks is that you are literally and figuratively locking the love you share with someone to ensure it remains eternal and that it only exists between you two. Sounds rather selfish, doesn’t it? Many French citizens embrace a love that resonates with the first word of their motto: Liberte. They believe that freedom is at the heart of everything and thus showing your love for something by locking it up is, in their opinion, the worst symbolic representation ever.
In other cities around the world, the love locks may not be weighing the bridges down, but they still cost lots of money in repairs. The material of the locks compromise the architectural integrity of the rails causing their lifespan to drastically reduce. For instance, in Cincinnati, OH, the many love locks that once lined the Purple People Bridge have been taken down. The reasons cited for this are: scraping, peeling and undue maintenance of the bridge. For many of these bridges, there is a real and apparent danger of electrolytic corrosion which may occur when the metal from the padlocks come into contact with one another. With increased exposure, this can eventually lead to rust damage. I mean, no one except some overzealous lovers will be hurt when the padlocks are damaged, but when the bridge itself begins to suffer structural damage, then the realm of the argument immediately broadens to include the further implications such damage will have.
Alternatives to Love Locks
In the effort to placate both sides of this rather lovely confrontation, many cities are trying to find alternative solutions to the use of love locks. No one ever said they were against love or how it is expressed, but they are simply trying to weigh all the options and ensure that love is, at the very least, safe.
One of the first countries to employ an alternative method to the traditional bridge-locking love locks was Russia. In their effort to deter people from posting padlocks on bridges and other important landmarks, the Russian government came up with the ingenious idea of erecting tree-like sculptures in several beautiful and key locations, most notably the Luzhkov Bridge. These special trees were made and positioned solely for the purpose of people who wanted to continue the tradition of locking their love in.
In Uruguay, a simpler method is utilized, one that negated the creation of a bridge of love. There is a fountain in Montevideo where charming folklore meets the modern need for love to be proven in easy ways. Within the fountain (dubbed Fuente de los candados), there is a plaque that reads “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked.” This “legend” is influential in attracting many tourists who come by to place their padlocks on the rails around the fountain and then subsequently throw the keys into the fountain.
In Paris, talk about the issue of the padlocks began back in 2010, but no decisive action was taken until the summer of 2015. It was then that city officials made the call to begin removing the padlocks (which weighed approximately 45 tons on one bridge), starting with those on the Pont Des Arts. In order to make sure they did not send the wrong message, Paris city officials reached out to its natives and tourists to garner ideas for suitable alternatives. For some, they seemed to be locked into the idea of using the love padlocks, and for them, it will be easy to pacify with a simple alternative, like a tree. For others, they believe that the idea is banal at heart. For them, other forms of expression that are more in tune with the free nature of France is the rallying point.
While the locks are being taken down in Paris, the city’s officials are placing street art with themes of love in lieu of the missing railings, as a temporary measure. Their long term solution is to create rails and parapets with plexiglass so that the inhabitants will once again have the satisfaction of being able to view the Seine River that snakes beautifully throughout Paris.
For those that believe in love strongly enough to want to lock it up (sounds rather ironic when you put it that way), it is most likely in all their best interests to find other viable solutions to expressing their undying love. The reason being, some countries may be patient and enamored with the whole concept, to begin with, but eventually this allure wears thin. Take the cities of Berlin and Venice for example, they saw the use of love locks as an increasing annoyance as well as a hazard to some of their respective bridges. Now, you can tell tourists and natives not to continue to put locks up once they have been taken down, but let’s be real for a second. No one is likely to heed the request, even if you say pretty please. So these two cities passed laws that made it illegal to hang any more padlocks on any of their bridges, and these are strictly enforced. Fines are usually meted out for people who are too engulfed in love to realize they are breaking the law.
Acts of Love
How you feel about the use of love locks and what they may symbolize, is inherently dependent on your perception of these locks. They may be good or they may be bad, and this once again depends on how they are used and where. If somehow, there is a way to contain the phenomenon of love locks when they spring up on an unsuspecting bridge, then that is all well and good. If not, then it most likely boils down to whether the vicinity it is in is even remotely comfortable with the idea, or if they choose to address the locks as a hazard to their bridges and their city’s inhabitants.
However, despite all these if’s, buts and talk on perception, there are creative and fun ways to curb the number of padlocks that spring up in various unfitting locations.
In New York and a few other major cities, several locksport enthusiasts have come up with the act of Love Picking. Love picking is carried out by lockpickers who hate to see the use of a good padlock go to waste. Instead of having it be cut off by city workers and either thrown away or melted down, they pick the locks and relocate them somewhere where the lock will not be bothering anyone. That is, with respect to structural integrity or causing danger, I can’t say that it will look pretty. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.
The art of love picking follows a few guidelines:
- Only public locks can be picked
- Only threatened locks can be picked (if there is no evidence that the lock will be cut down or removed and it is in a good spot then there is no need to pick it)
- Pick with the intent to relocate the lock, not to store it as a personal trophy.
- Take care when picking the locks and try not to be too competitive. It is being done in the spirit of love.
Love picking doesn’t come without its own contention. In an article published in the New Yorker, locksport enthusiast, and veteran Schuyler Towne talked about how love picking broke many of the rules that lockpickers are supposed to hold themselves to. Chief among these were the issues of never picking a lock in use and never picking a lock that wasn’t yours. These were two things love pickers overlooked, but I guess to them love is more important than following rules that are not really law.
Acts like Love Picking can be a suitable way of combating the dangers of love locks on bridges, while simultaneously giving lovers and patrons of love locks somewhere to rest their weary souls. However, there are other acts of love that do not support the use of love locks but instead advocate for the natural beauty that bridges should have. Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff are the faces of this movement in Paris. They created “No Love Locks” to advocate for the removal of the padlocks along the Pont Des Arts and the Pont De l’Archeveche. Like I stated earlier, there are two groups of people on opposite sides of the bridge, each fighting for a love of something they believe in. The outcome boils down to whether or not they believe love is a bridge that can take us anywhere, because chances are it will have to be if all these padlocks continue springing up everywhere.
Picking a Side
It is hard to say in a definitive manner what is right or wrong about love locks. Some cities embrace it wholeheartedly and others have flat out ruled it illegal. There is a beauty behind the gesture of trying to immortalize your love and keep it locked up forever but there is also some morbidity to it. The argument itself is mimetic of the malleable nature of love, and it is hard to tell either side that their acts may be either dangerous to physical things like bridges or that they may be damaging the metaphysical, like love.
Although, with the way things are playing out across the world, it is safe to say that many countries are choosing sides and taking definitive stances on the issue. From Paris to Rome, cities are cracking down and removing locks, whereas in places like China and Uruguay the tradition is being encouraged.
Whatever the case may be, you now know a lot more about love locks and where they came from and it helps to be informed because chances are you may be tempted to do this with someone you love in the future. Just make sure that you don’t use a high-security padlock. It will help to pick a side, do you want to add the weight of your love to the bridge or free the bridge so it’s natural beauty may shine. May the force be with you, or love, I guess.