“symbols of security, here the love locks are a symbol of romance”
At first glance the Hohenzollernbrücke railway bridge spanning the Rhine (Rhein) in Cologne may not appear to be a monument to love. An industrial sculpture of concrete and steel with high speed trains travelling in both directions over one of the World’s great rivers, impressive certainly, but romantic, surely not?
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.
“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.
They stretch from one side of the river to the other, as far as the eye can focus, a metallic rainbow of colour in a variety of 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.
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 is thought to originate 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.
Not everybody is enamoured by their presence and in most 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 to which they are attached, 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.
It seems unlikely that any of the others are as impressive as the Hohenzollernbrücke. Although predictably the majority of padlocks are amassed at either end and a little sparse in the centre, the number and variety of locks displayed is quite spectacular.
“combination locks might be a good idea!”
As the key is thrown into the river after fixing the lock to the railings I also 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, a 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.
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 it’s love locks it is thriving!