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What’s the scrap value of everlasting love?

Last weekend I visited the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany. The city is known for its impressive cathedral, beer, pretzel… and train bridge decorated top to bottom with love locks. You’ve probably heard about this custom that commemorates the special bond between people at popular tourist attractions all over the world.

Padlocks sold under the term ‘love locks’ are usually made from brass, aluminium or steel. I’ve encountered them at various places during my travels, notably outside of Romeo and Juliet’s mansion in Verona and the remnants of the Berlin Wall. I’ve even spotted some locks that have been around for ten years or more. (This reminds me of the Dutch phrase; ‘Old love doesn’t rust’ – though in this case I suppose it ultimately does…)

Names and dates are inscribed, and the key is frequently thrown into a nearby river as part of the modern-day ceremony. Some locks are shiny and new, big, colourful and ornate, others simple and small. The languages found on them are a testament to our world truly being a global village.

My boyfriend and his best friend read messages on the locks.

It’s estimated that between 15 000 – 30 000 new locks are attached to a structure every year, depending on its size and available room. This has led to gates, fences and bridge railings swamped with the whimsical locks, frequently to the point of near-collapse. That’s why municipalities have opted to remove them, sometimes tonnes at a time.

A few years back, Paris removed 65 000+ tonnes worth of locks, together with the entrapped bridge railings, to sell them for scrap value. Most of the money (upwards of EUR 100 000) went to charity to help refugees get back on their feet. If you consider this social phenomenon, it indicates a new urban mine fed by lovers and friends annually.  

At the moment, at least eleven bridges on the river Seine in Paris have love locks. The city of lights has been discouraging the practice since 2010, even placing signs forbidding tourists from placing locks at the top of the Eiffel Tower, citing lethal danger of falling objects (luckily no one has gotten hurt yet).

Thieves have also realised the hidden value of love locks. Art projects in both Brazil and Russia were sabotaged; with the lock-adorned sculptures stolen to be scrapped on multiple occasions.

Meanwhile, concerns over structural integrity (due to rust and mounting pressure) have seen authorities issue fines to ban the ‘pilgrimage of love’. Berlin introduced cautionary fines of EUR 35 in 2011, and Venice put the sum at no less than EUR 3000. Next time you’re tempted to add your name to the list, you’d be wise to check whether the city considers it a misdemeanour.

I want to leave this column on a positive note, though. Today marks the birthday of my late grandmother, Reina. She’s been gone for seven months now – she would have turned 84. I admit that I still can’t wrap my head around her sudden departure. I can’t imagine I ever will. But I’ll say this; I don’t need any proof to know how much I loved her. And still do. Always will.

As ‘oma’ used to say; “love will conquer all”. I still believe that. And I will gladly take that sentiment with me into the new year.

Wishing you all the best for 2022!

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