Tag Archives: Brooklyn Bridge

Love Locks

There were hundreds (perhaps thousands) more locked to the Brooklyn Bridge on this particular day.

There were hundreds (perhaps thousands) more locked to the Brooklyn Bridge on this particular day.

It’s either a symbol of romantic commitment, or it’s an act of vandalism.  Those are  basically the two opinions about “love locks”, which can be seen in profusion at many tourist destinations around the world.

They are padlocks, like you might have on a tool shed or gym locker, that have been embellished with the names or initials of couples in love.  This can be done with nail polish or paint or a Sharpie.  In some cases, the names and sentiment — “Cynthia and Mike Forever”, let’s say — are etched by laser.

The next step is for the couple to attach this chunk of sentimental hardware to a public fence or building or especially, a bridge.  After looking meaningfully into each others’ eyes, they then fling the key into the river, signifying that their love is bonded together forever.

Love padlocks, as they are also known, seem to date back a hundred years or so, to a Serbian couple.  He was a soldier about to be sent off to war; she was a young schoolteacher.  OK, this isn’t going where you think it is — he fell in love with a Greek woman and never saw the schoolteacher again.  The legend is that young Serbian girls put love padlocks on a particular bridge in hopes of avoiding a similar fate.

The practice wasn’t widespread in the 20th century, but got a huge boost in 2006 from a best-selling Italian novel called Ho Voglia Di Te (I Want You).  In the book and subsequent movie, the main characters put a padlock on Ponte Milvio, a bridge over the Tiber in Rome.

Love locks became a craze in Italy:  The Rialto Bridge in Venice sprouted them, and in Verona there are locks all over the house where Juliet supposedly lived when she was falling for Romeo.  On the Ponte Milvio, a lamppost buckled under the weight of love locks.

Tourists spread the newly established tradition around the world, everywhere from Brisbane, Australia to Seoul, South Korea they are affixed to public property, mostly by visitors.  Many locals take the dim view of love locks as being clutter, or worse — dangerous.

The Pont des Arts in Paris started to sag and has had grill work collapse regularly from 93 metric tons (over 205,000 pounds) of love locks.  That bridge seems to be a favored spot for lovers, but throughout the city, bridges over the Seine have an estimated 700,000 padlocks attached.  That’s the sort of thing that generates the conflict between keeping love alive and keeping infrastructure intact.

On New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, a key tossed by lovers might be just as likely to hit a car passing below as it would to reach the river (see photo), and locks add significant weight to the bridge’s cables.  Workers from the city’s Department of Transportation periodically remove the locks with bolt cutters and recycle them.  That approach has been taken in most other cities as well.

That means the symbolism of love locks has become nuanced:  Clamping one on a bridge is now a way to say “I’ll love you till the end of time.  Or until a city employee snips this with bolt cutters and throws it away.  Whichever comes first.”

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Cross That Bridge: Ten Favorites

Golden Gate, San Francisco (photo by Sally Reeder)

Because people need to live near a water supply, we also tend to live near bridges.  Chances are you’re within a few kilometers of a bridge right now, unless you are currently trekking in the Gobi Desert and have paused to surf the Web.

Most bridges go unnoticed because they merely do their job of conveying traffic over water, but there are some that do catch our eye; some are even tourist attractions in their own right.  What follows is a list of ten of my favorites.  These are not chosen for the feats of engineering that brought them into existence, but mainly because I find them aesthetically pleasing.

10.  Nanpu Bridge, Shanghai — The distinctive feature of this bridge is its spiral approach, which corkscrews up to great views along the Huangpu River, especially at night.

9.  Seven Mile Bridge, Florida — This ribbon of concrete and steel connects some of the Florida Keys as part of the so-called Overseas Highway.  As the name suggests, one’s car travels quite a distance over water.

8.  Old Bridge, Heidelberg, Germany — A low stone bridge that spans the Neckar River (a tributary of the Rhine), it affords views of Heidelberg Castle and the picturesque Old Town.  Although there have been bridges on this site since the 13th century, the current Old Bridge isn’t very old; it was restored following World War II.

7.  Brooklyn Bridge, New York — The familiar gothic arches span the East River, connecting lower Manhattan and the borough of Brooklyn.  It is counter to the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  The GW has its admirers, but I prefer the comfortable-old-boots look of the Brooklyn.

6.  Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), Prague — This pedestrian bridge is adorned with statues of saints, some dating back to the 17th century.  During the day, Charles Bridge is lively with street musicians and artisans selling their stuff; at night lovers stroll the bridge holding hands (and bottles).

5.  Ponte Vecchio, Florence — When it was built in the 1300s, shops and houses were incorporated into the structure.  Once these were butcher shops; the bridge is now basically a mall of jewelry stores.  Personally, I prefer seeing the beautiful Ponte Vecchio from the banks of the Arno River rather than walking on the bridge itself.

4.  Harbor Bridge, Sydney — The entire harbor has great views in every direction; it’s worth a walk out onto the bridge to take in the nearby Opera House and surroundings.

3.  Tower Bridge, London — Some people mistakenly think this distinctive bridge is London Bridge.  It’s called Tower Bridge because of its proximity to the Tower of London.  This bridge is a landmark; London Bridge, just up the Thames, is relatively forgettable.

2.  Pont Alexandre III, Paris — Decorated with bronze lamps and statuary from La Belle Époque, this bridge is a great vantage point from which to marvel at the Eiffel Tower and all of central Paris.

1.  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco — It’s painted that distinctive orange color partly to keep ships from slamming into it on foggy days.  When the visibility is good, however, the bridge and the bay and the hilly landscape are components of the most gorgeous urban setting in the United States.

There are lots of other great bridges, of course, like Lion’s Gate in Vancouver and the Rialto in Venice, but these are my favorites (as of today).   What else belongs on the list?  What would be your top pick?