I’d heard of the ‘lock’ phenomenon but hadn’t seen it in the flesh (or should that be rusted metal?) until this week, when I was taking in the beauty of the Derbyshire town of Bakewell.
A small, pedestrian bridge spanning the River Wye is completely covered in locks of various shapes and sizes with a combination of professionally lasered messages and rudimentary initials and dates scratched onto the metal.
Typically, sweethearts put the lock onto a bridge and then toss the key in the water below to symbolise unbreakable love. In many cases this act is preceded by a proposal, or in the lead up to a wedding.
The ritual of securing a padlock to a bridge allegedly originated in Serbia, in a sad tale from World War 1. A local schoolmistress named Nada, from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other Relja went to war in Greece where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. Consequently, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada never recovered from that devastating blow, and after some time she died due to heartbreak from her unfortunate love.
As young women from Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect their own loves, they started writing down their names, with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixing them to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.
Although this phenomenon has spread across the world, from Canada to Russia, the most famous bridge to have been adorned with these love tokens is the Pont des Arts in Paris. Couples from across the globe would descend to propose, or show commitment to their love for each other, sealing the deal with a lock and a selfie before tossing the key into the River Seine. How cute you may think. What a beautiful way to symbolise their love for each other. On one level, yes. What transpired however, was the estimated whopping 45 tons in weight of thousands of padlocks was crushing the structure of the bridge and the council made the decision to remove every love token.
As always, the answer is never straightforward. For many towns and cities who have a bridge of locks, it has become a tourist attraction that will effectively generate income for local businesses. Indeed Bakewell, and many other places, have businesses selling locks specifically to be attached to the bridge. Those wishing to declare their love for each other in this manner need not even plan in advance, it may be a spur of the moment act.
A quick look on Trip Advisor shows couples around the world leaving reviews of these ‘love lock’ bridges and their addition to the masses of metal. Could it now be a case of too much love? There is something strangely beautiful and romantic about looking at these symbols of love. It is slightly addictive, making your way along the bridge at couples’ names and the dates they stood there proclaiming their love for one another. However, there is also something sad about our need to show our commitment in this manner, that ultimately has devastating effects on these bridges and the residents who live near them. Perhaps it could even be called an act of vandalism. Whatever the individual thinks, it seems the ritual of placing padlocks on bridges and throwing away the key is here to stay.