It was World War One. A young Serbian school teacher named Nada fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After their betrothal, Relja went off to war in Greece where (the cad!) he fell in love with a girl from Corfu. Needless to say, his engagement with Nada was off, and she died of a broken heart.
All the other young girls in her town of Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect themselves from her fate, so they started a tradition of writing their names, together with those of their lovers, on padlocks which they attached to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet, and then threw the keys into the river.
Locked in love forever more. Awwwwww.
At least, that’s one story of the origins of the love lock scourge that is now sweeping the world’s bridges, monuments, and fences. Who knows what the actual truth is? And who knows what the tipping point was that caused a seemingly sweet, local tradition to become a world-wide movement that endangers the fabric of our bridges and monuments?
I first encountered love locks alongside the beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence in 2011. By that point, the city authorities had already removed over 5,000 padlocks that had been attached to the railings of the bridge, as they were causing damage to the metal. They then banned the practice and introduced fines for the practice…but that didn’t stop hard-core romantics defying the ban, and attaching their love locks to any available metal fixture.
In Paris, the practice is carried out at many of the bridges over the Seine. The worst affected is probably the Pont des Arts. The metal panels of the bridge have to be replaced regularly by city authorities as they sag under the weight of the padlocks.
Recently there has been an incident caused by the over-burdening of the Pont des Arts’ metallic mesh with padlocked declarations of undying love. A 2.5m, 700 kilogram section of the meshed railing on the bridge collapsed. Because of how the bridge panels are constructed, it was lucky (if you can call it that) that the section fell onto the bridge, rather than outwards down to the river. A river that, in summer, is teeming with tourists on passing boats. Fortunately no one was injured this time, but imagine if a small child had been standing next to the panel as 700 kilograms of metal tumbled onto the bridge deck.
This love lock scourge is happening everywhere. The Wikipedia list of lovelock locations is huge. Asia, Europe, North and South America…only Africa and the Antartica seem to be immune (but I’m guessing it probably happens somewhere in Africa too). There’s even reports of love locks being attached to the top of the Eiffel Tower. What happens to the structure of the Tower if that craze catches on?
I was shocked to discover earlier this year that my own city has not escaped. Bridges over the Yarra are now sprouting metallic clusters of padlocks.
The problem I have with practices such as this, is the long-term effect when it gains a critical mass of popularity.
One newlywed couple attaching their lock to the Pont des Arts back in the early 2000s may have seemed a quirky little celebration of their commitment. They take some photos. They share them around. Before you know it, every newlywed couple visiting Paris wants their own photo opportunity. Then grandparents start love locking for their grandkids back home. And long-term married couples do so, because it seems cute. Pretty soon, every visitor to Paris has it on their ‘must-do’ list of Paris experiences and is merrily love locking away. To do so, shows no understanding or acknowledgement of the collective impact of EVERYONE DOING THIS.
It damages the fabric of the bridges and monuments. It changes their aesthetics. Aesthetics that architects or designers laboured over. Not to mention the pollution aspect of hundreds of thousands of keys being tossed into rivers, and the effects of rusting padlocks on the structures.
Why would we want to permanently change a place when we visit it? This makes no sense to me.
And a quick Google as I wrote this post revealed that I’m by no means alone in my views on the scourge of the love locks. There’s a grass-roots effort, which started in Paris to create awareness of this problem called No Love Locks. They estimate that on the eight bridges over the Seine and three pedestrian bridges over the Canal Saint Martin where love locks are attached, there are somewhere between 700,000 and one million of them, with hundreds more being attached every day. Part of the No Love Locks mission is “to seek out and suggest less destructive (and more original) ways for lovers and others to commemorate special moments—because we still believe in celebrating love and life.”
For those who really, really feel the need to lock up their love for eternity (or at least until the padlock rusts through), I’m not totally against the idea of love locks, providing they can be accommodated in designated, adequately engineered and officially sanctioned locations.
The Belltower in Perth, Western Australia, for instance offers love locks for $30. For that, you get it engraved with two names and the date, before you attach it to a designated chain. In Moscow, authorities have installed a row of metallic trees on Luzhkov Bridge specifically for the addition of love locks. As they fill up, they are moved and replaced.
However, I can’t see myself ever doing it…sanctioned or not.