Love Locks – A Statement of Love or Vandalism?
A SHORT STORY
We were never aware of love locks before about fifteen years ago but recently as we travel we often come across collections of padlocks attached to bridges and other public structures. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what was going on by all the couples names engraved on the locks. But in the last five years or so it is becoming difficult to not notice these collections, they’re popping up everywhere.
The practice isn’t new but was virtually unheard of outside of a few cities, mostly in Eastern Europe. Early in the twenty-first century the practice has exploded worldwide. A love lock is a padlock which lovers lock to a bridge, fence, gate or monument to symbolize their eternal love. In recent years the lovers’ names or initials, and the date, are engraved on the padlock, and its key is thrown away usually into the river under the bridge to symbolize unbreakable love.
This simple and romantic practice seems innocent but more and more being treated by authorities as litter or vandalism, and there is becoming serious cost associated with damage and their removal. We’ve been told that there are places where authorities are embracing them as a tourist attractions.
A little research will show that love padlocks date back at least 100 years to a Serbian tale of World War I, about the bridge Most Ljubavi or the Bridge of Love in the town of Vrnjačka Banja. A local schoolmistress named Nada, who was from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. He went off to war in Greece, where he fell in love with a woman from Corfu. Heart broken Nada broke off their engagement and after some time died from heartbreak. As the tragic love story circulated young women from Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect their love and started writing down their names, with the names of their loves, on padlocks and attached them to the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.
In Dublin there is a famous pedestrian bridge called the Ha’penny Bridge. It is one of the more famous symbols of Dublin. Nearly 200 years old (1816) it is a protected structure, but in recent years Dublin City Council have had to remove thousands of padlocks from the bridge on a regular basis. They are considered unsightly and are causing damage by chipping paint and adding considerable weight to the historic bridge. Engineers have estimated that at some point, if not removed, they could cause the bridge to collapse.
While the key to many a heart now lies at the bottom of the River Liffey where couples in love have thrown them after securing their love locks to Dublin’s historic Ha’penny Bridge, a group is dedicated to breaking that bond. Almost as soon as the lovers have left, an expert lock-picking group arrives to tear these bonds of love apart and stop the locks from making the bridge structurally unsafe.
“It’s a fairly constant churn,” said Seán Nicholls, who set up the group when he was on his way to a professional lock-picking meeting. “I was heading to the meeting one day and I walked over the Ha’penny Bridge and noticed all the locks. In my mind it was defacing a city treasure. That’s kind of where the idea came from,” he said.
Dublin City Council embraced the group in the aftermath of a love-lock situation in Paris where the locks caused a section of the Pont des Arts bridge to collapse.
Just recently the practice has come to America and is growing in Savannah, Boston and a number of other cities. Since a number of locksmiths are now offering professional engraving on their padlocks the practice is likely to grow even more.