x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Locks-of-love trend latches on to bridges across the world

A couple will visit a bridge and fasten a lock there as a symbol of their enduring, unbreakable love. The keys will then be thrown into the river below, implying that there will never be a need to unshackle their bond. But not everyone is happy with this growing custom. Mark Angeles reports

Newlyweds Alicia of Wisconsin, right, and Sven from Cologne fix a padlock to a fence on a train bridge over the Rhine in Cologne, Germany. The custom says that lovers will cement their love with the lock when they throw the key into the river. Martin Meissner / AP
Newlyweds Alicia of Wisconsin, right, and Sven from Cologne fix a padlock to a fence on a train bridge over the Rhine in Cologne, Germany. The custom says that lovers will cement their love with the lock when they throw the key into the river. Martin Meissner / AP

PRAGUE // Some of the bridges are well-known, and others do not even have a name, but they share something hopeful – and somewhat heavy.

From Paris to Prague and from Brooklyn, New York to Bydgoszcz, Poland, a phenomenon of sorts has been occurring at these bridges over the past few years involving the seemingly unrelated subjects of love and padlocks.

The premise is simple – a couple will visit the bridge and fasten a lock there as a symbol of their enduring, hopefully unbreakable love. The keys will then be thrown into the river below, implying that there will never be a need to unshackle these bonds of compatibility.

Some of the locales have become so well-known for their love-and-locks reputation that couples from distant places come to latch the symbols of their love beside thousands of others.

Javier Garcia Ramirez, 25, who travelled from Valencia, Spain to Prague with his girlfriend to proclaim his iron-clad affection, said he thought this was the perfect romantic gesture.

“I think it’s a good thing for young people in love,” Mr Ramirez said as he walked with his girlfriend, Iris Gomez Garcia, on one of the small bridges near the Kampa River that’s festooned with case-hardened clasps.

The practice has exploded in popularity since the 2006 publication of Federico Moccia’s best-selling novel Ho Voglia di Te [I Want You], whose characters fasten a padlock on the Milvian Bridge in Rome.

The romantic ritual has been a boon for some cities.

“It’s good for tourism, and good for business,” said Jan Skavarie, an IT professional from the South Moravian region of the Czech Republic, as a steady stream of visitors strolled along one of the bridges near the Charles Bridge in Prague.

And the relatively new tradition isn’t limited to young people.

“If you look at some of the locks, you’ll see that some of them are celebrating 30 years of marriage,” said Marianna Peicuch, 70, of Bydgoszcz, Poland, as she pointed to an engraved lock on one of the scenic footbridges near the Brda River that lead to Syspa Mlynska, an island in the centre of Bydgoszcz.

But not everyone think the locks of love are a good thing.

The 5,000 locks that accumulated on the Milvian Bridge in Rome prompted the regional president of the district in which the ancient bridge is located to lead a campaign to remove the locks.

In January, city officials in Dublin, Ireland ordered the hundreds of locks on the the 200-year-old Ha’Penny Bridge cut off, saying the locks are unsightly and add potentially dangerous weight to the bridge.

“This seems to have only started happening in the last few months and we’re asking people not to do it,” a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said at the time.

Officials in Italy and other countries have followed suit, concerned about the aesthetics and safety issues the locks present on ancient structures such as the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence and the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris.

The heavy brass padlock brought from Valencia by Ramirez and Garcia is typical of the thousands that have been placed on the small bridges that traverse the Kampa River in Prague. Theirs was inscribed with “I” and “J,” the initials for him and his girlfriend; “18-8-13’” the date they clamped the lock into place on a tiny bridge above the Kampa River, and “20”, the name of the first movie they saw together. The bridge Ramirez chose is in the shadow of the well-known Charles Bridge, upon which locks are not allowed. Locks that were attached to the bars of statues on the Charles Bridge were cut off last year.

But that hasn’t stopped lovers and their locks in Prague and elsewhere.

Within days after the locks on the Ha’Penny Bridge in Dublin were cut off, others were attached to take their place.

Some cities don’t see the locks as a problem. Officials in Bydgoszcz, Poland actually encourage the practice.

“We decided to support this habit,” says Paul Krac of the Bydgoszcz Local Tourist Organisation. Mr Krac was even able to convince a president of the city council to place a lock on one of the pedestrian bridges on Wyspa Mlynska Island near the Brda River in central Bydgoszcz.

“It is a symbol that marriage and love can last,” says Konstantin Dombrowicz, president of the Bydgoszcz city council. Mr Dombrowicz said he’s been happily married since 1972 and has no problem with lovers of any ages to hang a lock on one of the several bridges in his city.

Other cities in Poland have not been as welcoming to the practice.

Officials in Gdansk blame the proliferation of padlocks for the damage to the Bridge of Bread, built in the 19th century over the Radunia Canal.

Some of the locks are small, simple and unadorned. Others are large and elaborate, replete with inscriptions.

There are few things stronger than love, proponents point out. And for those who think the locks are unslightly, one Prague native said beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

“I think it’s a good thing, in terms of economics and also for the heart,” said Jizi Kral, a Prague native who saw the lock-adorned bridges for the first time in August. “If the government wants to get rid of unsightly things in this city, they can start with some of the ugly statues all over Prague.”

mangeles@thenational.ae