Busker on the Cologne railway Bridge of locks over the Rhine, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain_mallory_06720

The Hohenzollern Brücke, Cologne; The Bridge of Locks

“symbols of security, here the love locks are a symbol of romance”
At first glance the Hohenzollernbrücke railway bridge of locks, which spans the Rhine (Rhein) in Cologne may not seem a monument to love. An industrial sculpture of concrete and steel with high-speed trainstravelling in both directions over one of the World’s great rivers, impressive certainly, but romantic, surely not?

The DeutscheBahn Bridge of locks in Cologne, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain_mallory_06722

Spanning the Rhine

Expressions of Love on the Bridge of Locks

Getting a little closer however even in the dull light of a December day it is possible to catch the glint of a different metal. As the eye begins to focus hundreds of thousands perhaps even a million or more padlocks become visible, fixed to the railings they stretch from one side of the bridge to the other.

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Trains and love locks on the bridge of locks over the River Rhine in Cologne, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain_mallory_06704

Trains and love locks

“Not exactly Romeo and Juliet perhaps more Klaus and Heidi”
All manner of shapes and sizes, most engraved with the names of the lovers that placed them there before throwing the key into the mighty Rhine. Not exactly Romeo and Juliet perhaps more Klaus and Heidi in a modern-day Germanic city.

Padlocks of love on the railway bridge of locks in Cologne on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Colour in the sea of love

They stretch from one side of the river to the other, as far as the eye can focus, a metallic rainbow of colour in different shapes, encrusted with gems and emblazoned with terms of endearment. Bicycle chains, horseshoes, strings of padlocks, handcuffs the splash of colour contrasting with the sombre materials of the bridge. Fixed there by married couples, single-sex couples, young or old couples, as diverse as the padlocks themselves, an ‘eternal’ testament to their commitment to one another.

Cologne's Bridge of Locks over the Rhein on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

So many locks

It is not  only this city that has a ‘Bridge of Love Locks’ they are found in Rome, Valencia, Paris, they exist in Australia and Uruguay and Vancouver Island even has a trail of them. The inspiration for the idea is not altogether clear; many theories exist although it possibly originated at the beginning of the current century.

The chains, padlocks and handcuffs theme had me wondering if there was a S&M origin to it somewhere but there is not any evidence either way.

Controversial Locks

The bridges of locks are not popular with everyone and in many locations the padlocks are regularly removed by the authorities. The reasons given for this removal range from aesthetic, to damaging the heritage of a city or even the metalwork of the bridge. The words “bah humbug” come to mind. Even the Cologne bridge has seen the railway company threaten to remove them until eventually relenting due to public pressure.

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Lots of love locks on Cologne bridge of locks over the Rhine, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Re-evaluating the S&M connection

It seems unlikely that any of the others are as impressive as the Hohenzollernbrücke. Although predictably most padlocks are at either end and a little sparse in the centre, the number and variety of locks displayed is quite spectacular.

Graffiti lock on the Bridge of locks in Cologne, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A different kind of declaration

“combination locks might be a good idea!”
The key is apparently thrown into the river after fixing the lock to the railings. I therefore found myself wondering what happens if the couple part company. Have there been any instances of somebody turning up with a hammer and chisel to remove the padlock that still declared their undying love. It may seem a little cynical but cannot help thinking it must happen occasionally. An even more cynical friend who shall remain anonymous suggested combination locks might be a good idea!

As with any good opportunity that comes along there are always those around to benefit from it.  Though not present this day there are usually a couple of padlock sellers on the bridge who will also engrave the necessary words of love into the metallic parchment of choice. The accordion player that was present this day however seemed preferable to me.

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Whatever the origins of the tradition or the potential long-term effects to the structure, the romantic in me found it quite heartening to see so many symbols of love in one place. Romance is not just alive in Cologne, with its bridge of locks it is thriving!

Busker on the Cologne railway Bridge of locks over the Rhine, Germany on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain_mallory_06720

I am the music man

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Comments 68

  1. Amanda

    This is so cool! I’ve heard of similar bridges elsewhere in the world, and I always find the photos fascinating. I could easily spend hours on that bridge just looking at all the locks and messages!

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      Iain

      Thanks Amanda it is quite cool to browse through the many padlocks, it would have been great to really have a few hours to wander along the bridge and read the messages on the many locks and other paraphernalia attached to the railings. I hope you have a great New Year, Canada will be amazing, awesome destination.

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  2. Candace

    Hi Iain! Love this post, and the pictures are fantastic. I stood on this bridge in 2010 and was equally as fascinated with the locks 🙂 Hope you had a great Christmas!

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      Iain

      Hey Candace so glad you liked it, especially as you have actually visited the bridge makes it all the more special. Just amazing looking through them all isn’t it., so many it’s a little mind blowing. Happy New Year to you 🙂

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      Iain

      It really is impressive Brooke I would not even like to hazard a guess to how many actual padlocks are on the bridge. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Sophie

    Nice, colourful photos, Iain! These locks are an interesting phenomena of, well, early 21st century culture, I suppose. But the words ‘love’ and ‘lock’,… well, they just don’t go together well, I think.

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      Iain

      Thanks Sophie concentrated on the variety of padlocks as they complimented the story, I found the concept fascinating and quite surprising it is such a recent phenomenon. If you come up with a suitable alternative to lock I’ll happily change it 😉

      1. Sophie

        No, no, that wasn’t a reflection on your story and photos (which I really enjoyed), but rather a philosophical pondering on the need to lock love. The locks are decorative, and as such interesting additions to a bridge, fountain, etc… but the idea behind them gives me a slight sense of claustrophobia.

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          Iain

          You are fine Sophie I did not take it as a slight on the post and not offended, please don’t think I am 🙂 interesting to hear how you reacted to them though.

  4. Cathy Sweeney

    I visited Cologne for the first time in June and the Love Locks on the Hohenzollernbrücke are just one of the many things that I love about the city. Enjoyed your background and perspectives.

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      Iain

      Thank you Cathy, I was not able to spend too long there Cathy as was staying outside the city itself. I only had time to visit the Christmas markets, Cathedral and bridge. I do hope to get back and thank you for commenting.

  5. Cam

    We have been to Koln numerous times and NEVER seen the locks on the bridge – we had no idea! Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to read something about Koln that goes beyond the Kolner Dom. Cheers!

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      Iain

      Thanks Cam just goes to show even with quite a bit of time to explore you can always find something new in almost every destination, Kolner Dom…… what’s that? 😉

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    Fascinating cultural phenomenon in Cologne. It would be neat to hear some of the stories of the people who placed their locks on the bridge and to learn what percentage are still together after a few years. I’d like to believe the bridge locks have some magical power to keep happy couples together.

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      Iain

      Great point Mary, it would be amazing to hear some of the stories from the people that have a padlock on the bridge, maybe I should research that for a future post 🙂 and agree it is nice to think that those padlocks maybe mystically keeping people together somehow.

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      Iain

      I missed the axel grinder Laurence or else I would have mentioned it, not as observant as I thought, sort of makes the hammer and chisel comment redundant!

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  7. Jim O'Donnell

    That is great! For some reason, I’ve always liked this bridge. Yes, it is industrial and seemingly cold but it has a flowing grace about it – at least in my eye. The locks are a fabulous addition.

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      Iain

      No I think you are right Jim, it maybe functional and industrial in appearance but it has a certain Germanic charm, interesting enough, though might not have written a post about it save for the padlocks to be honest 😉

  8. Curt

    I’ve only ever been on this bridge from the railway side, so I’ve never seen the locks. However, it does remind me of a legend we had at William & Mary about the Crim Dell bridge: If a couple kisses at the crest of the bridge, they will be bound together forever. From personal experience, I can attest it’s only a myth.

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  9. fotoeins | Henry

    Great post and photos! Despite the fact I’d been in Köln many many times before, I’d never crossed the Hohenzollernbrücke *on foot*. At the end of September, I’d finally seen for myself about the things in your post. And thanks to your post, I’ll be looking to write in the future a post with some big differences and with a different view in mind. 🙂 This might not be a problem by the sheer number of locks on the bridge – I do think, however, there are more locks on the “Dom” (Cathedral) or west side than there are locks on the “Deutz” or east side. Thanks again, Iain!

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      Iain

      Thank you Henry I hope you really get chance to witness the padlocks yourself and look forward to a your interesting take on it once you everntually do. I think you are probably right about the distribution of the locks on both sides of the bridge.

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      Iain

      It is quite hard to imagine how many locks are actually here Jade easily hundreds of thousands, I hope you get to visit there soon.

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      Iain

      Its a great place to visit Rashmi and the locks, provide plenty of colour and ga ve me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Thanks for commenting

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  10. Travelwriticus

    I know this bridge well as I used to enter the city of Cologne by train via this bridge for many times. Many years ago I also had the chance to watch the fireworks of New Years Eve high over this bridge. A very impressive moment. No love locks at that time, they seem to be a pretty new custom.

  11. Jeremy Branham

    I’ve heard of this bridge before but never seen the photos. I am curious how many of these people are still together? Maybe that kills the romance of the place but it makes me wonder.

    I have to admit I didn’t notice the locks at first but looking a little more closely, I saw them. Maybe that’s symbolic of what true love really is all about.

  12. Andy

    Hi Iain,
    I can vouch for the fact that this phenomenon has reached Scandinavia, although of course not in the Germanic orderly fashion…I heard this started in Italy but cannot be 100% sure, it would be interesting to hear about the origin but anyhow here’s the Stockholm version (which incidentally is on a bridge offering a fabulous view of the city at sunrise, so worth a trip there for two reasons): http://grownuptravelguide.com/grown-up-travel-guide-daily-photo-stockholm-sweden
    Cheers,
    Andy

  13. Tenzeen

    Beautiful,thanx lot for such great pictures.I’ve been koln once when I use to lives in Bochum but I never heard about this beautiful bridge with beautiful love locks.
    In June my girlfriend visiting me from Boston and I would like to take her here.I saw one bridge in Paris also.
    Can you please tell me where we can buy these locks and write our names on it???? Is there such shops near around the bridge??
    Thanking you.

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  14. Cristina

    I’ve been to Koln but how did I miss this bridge?! I love the idea of Love Locks. Knowing that people around the world have crossed the same path or bridge as you to solidify their feelings in love in a person and a city, I think is a beautiful gesture. The world really is a small village and it goes to show we all want the same thing – to be loved and have amazing experiences. When we travel, my partner and I always pack padlocks. We have placed our locks in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Lisbon so far! We actually kept the keys to these locks as a reminder of all the cities we left a piece of our heart in together. Maybe one day we might return to find them again but it’s really sad to know authorities snip these from time to time. I don’t think it is unaesthetic or damaging to the heritage of a city at all – I think it adds character and tells thousands of beautiful love stories.

      1. Cristina

        There is a beautiful viewpoint near the Se and Alfama called Miradouro das Portas Do Sol. We placed it here although it’s quite an open space so probably not the best spot but my boyfriend and I choose spots in the city we love the most to lock our padlocks and this spot was our favourite. In Barcelona it was a local’s beach on the outskirts of the city so we found a hidden trail and placed it there. Because it’s off the tourist track it’s kind of our little secret, like we’re the only ones that know where to find it! And I doubt authorities will know either lol!

  15. Leslie

    Hey all,

    My man and I have made sort of a hobby of “lovelocking” all over the world. Recently we tried to hang a lock in Barcelona, seems they have all been removed. Just wondering if anyone knows what happened to them.
    Thanks,
    Leslie

  16. Nicola McCoy

    Hey, I am a resident of Cologne and love the colours of the bridge and your beautiful picture of the accordian player. Apropro your comment about authorities in many places taking locks down I thought I would share with you something quite wonderful that i saw in Moscow a few years ago. The authorities built iron tree “skeletons” so to speak for people to attach their locks to and the more people attach locks, the more colour and plumage is added and the tree “blooms” it looks wonderful, here you can see it more on this blog…

    http://othermoscow.livejournal.com/6588.html

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  17. JenSop

    My boyfriend and I just added our own lock this past Monday to the Hohenzollernbrücke. Just something sweet and romantic that we wanted to do while we were in Cologne together. <3

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  18. whywasteannualleave

    I saw this in Cologne in 2011 and it looks so much more saturated even since then! I love the huge heart one with the slightly different take! lol! But I’m glad that you wrote, that all in all, you think they’re sweet and endearing too – I know some people find it cheesy but I’m a hopeless romantic and could have spent hours just reading them all one by one on the bridge!

  19. elondon

    This is the reason why i love to follow this blog, it provides excellent quality information. This post is particularly impressive and the pics are simply amazing.

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