Architecture / Germany / Travel

Cologne’s Locks of Love Bridge: A Romantic Fad or Steel Graffiti?

Cologne's Locks of Love Bridge

Lovers traveling to a special place, strolling hand-in-hand, making a vow, and leaving behind a symbol of their enduring love – what could be more romantic?

Loving couples from all over the globe have ventured to Cologne (Köln), Germany to the Hohenzollern Bridge, and the love tokens left behind are metal locks – thousands and thousands of them.

A Sea of Locks

We’ve seen Locks of Love bridges in a few cities on our travels, but the Cologne bridge is the granddaddy of them all. As far as the eye can see locks cover the security fence. Our first experience with an LOL bridge was in Helsinki. We were impressed at the time, but it’s absolutely puny compared to the Hohenzollern Bridge.

For young lovers a personalized lock in a prominent public place (with a few selfies of course) may be a romantic notion, but some city officials aren’t so enthusiastic about the fad. Earlier this year, the Pont des Arts footbridge in central Paris was so weighed down with locks that a section of fencing collapsed.

A Los Angeles Times article said of the damage:

“No one was hurt, but it did spur a tweet from Bruno Julliard, the city’s head of cultural affairs, who said it ‘confirms that our desire to find an alternative to these locks is a real necessity.’ He’s not alone in that feeling.”

Cologne's Main Rail Station

But not to worry. The Hohenzollern is the main rail bridge over the Rhine and into Cologne’s Central Station. Allied bombers tried repeatedly to blow it to bits in WW II, and never succeeded. So I don’t think a few thousand amorous add-ons will do much damage.

Still, the argument is a classic matter of perspective. Some would say: “Oh, it’s just a bit of fun, will you city curmudgeons just relax!” And a city official responsible for preserving historical architecture (and public safety) would have an entirely different point of view.

I can appreciate both sides of this issue, and it is just a bit of fun, until the fun becomes damaging. I’m glad I don’t have to ride herd on a Locks of Love bridge.

Happy Trails,
James

Heavy Footraffic on Bridge

78 thoughts on “Cologne’s Locks of Love Bridge: A Romantic Fad or Steel Graffiti?

  1. James this bridge definitely, as you say, is the Granddaddy of all the love struck fences. It was Andrew who told me that in some cities it has become illegal with, relatively stiff fines being handed out, for placing a lock. I think the discussion came up on a post about Venice. Personally I was completely ‘gaga’ over the whole idea which seems terribly romantic. Dave was not inspired to go and buy a lock. Must be the engineer in him. 🙂

    • Sue I didn’t say anything about the cottage industry that LOL bridges has started. In Wroclaw, a couple of local guys had set up a card table and were selling locks. Lovers could customize their personal love token with sharpies, and stick on labels. I didn’t see anyone buying, but obviously, someone had in the past. BTW, tell Dave that I dearly love Terri, but I didn’t buy a lock either. ~James

      • One has to love the creativity of individuals in making money. Perhaps they are good friends with the bridge repair team.
        I will pass that tidbit on to Dave. He will be delighted for the validation. On another note he will later today publish his first post on the blog. You can imagine how many times I have used the ‘James and Terri’ example to encourage him. 🙂

  2. Yes I saw this last year when I was in Cologne and liked it well enough, took photos etc, but generally I’m pretty turned off by the whole concept these days. It seems a bit pointless to buy a metal padlock, get it engraved, chain to a fence that thousands of other people have done as well. Surely that kind of creative energy and desire for declaration could be expressed in either other ways?! Like that crazy graffiti’ed wall in Verona outside Juliet’s balcony.

    I think about how many of those relationships didn’t survive, and now there’s just some rusty padlock not serving any particular purpose for anyone. I was glad to hear them stop the practice in Paris, frankly. It adds all that permanent weight on a construction not designed for it and people are pretty thoughtless in the way they don’t think about that.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. You comment touches on all the emotional and practical aspects of this fad. But fads by definition don’t make much sense, and as you point out, there’s no logic here. I agree that in a truly special love affair, both partners want to show their love in a unique way; not just the same way thousands of others have done it. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen it. ~James

  3. I think they are hideous. I really don’t see that turning a bridge into an eyesore (unless, perhaps, it was one already) and compromising its safety is either romantic or excusable. I was just told, in Ljubjana (by my food tour guide), that the padlocks are actually sold with two keys. The guy throws one in the water with professions of undying love, and hangs on to the other. In any case, this is a stupid fad, we all know that the odds are not good for young relationships lasting, and I hope most adults have more sense.

    What if the next collapse actually hurts someone?

    • I can’t say that the Hohenzollern Bridge was overly attractive to begin with, so in this case, a bit of color doesn’t hurt. But I agree with all your points Kathy. We were all teenagers once, and most of us did lots of dumb things. The lock tradition definitely falls into this category. And yes, hopefully most adults know better. BTW, how is your trip to Ljubjana going?
      We were there a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed it. ~James

      • This was a return to Ljubljana for me, and I liked it even more this time! Have since been in Trieste (didn’t care for it, too monumental Hapsburg), returned to Ferrara and Ravenna (highly recommend Ferrara, and of course the mosaics in Ravenna) and am currently in Venice. Not the best weather…

  4. Lovely photos! I think this craze is here to stay. The Millennium Bridge in London has a lot of padlocks on it these days, though nowhere near as many or as colourful as these.
    I think the weight of them must be immense so that’s probably why the authorities try to ban it in some places – I wouldn’t be too impressed if a bridge fell into the water while I was romantically walking across it!

    • The Millennium Bridge is very attractive and is exactly the type of bridge that shouldn’t be trashed-up with a bunch of locks – which is what most Parisians are saying about their bridge. City officials in Paris have cleaned most of the locks away and put up some kind of plexiglass wall to prevent future locks. But sadly, the fad will probably just shift to another bridge. ~James

  5. I am firmly on the vandalism side of the debate. I was in Budapest last week and there were a few of these hideous locks on the wonderful bridges of the city but thankfully not that many. I was told that city authorities remove them regularly and I think more cities should follow this example!

    • LOL seems like a problem that would be very difficult to stay on top of Andrew, but like the tagging that seems so out of control in many cities, that really is the only way to keep it in check. The worse the problem gets, the more it inspires people to continue it. As another commenter said, I think it’s a craze that’s here to stay. ~James

      • Andrew, in most cases, and particularly in the case of historic structures and anytime that personal safety is an issue, I’m firmly in the vandalism camp. But with strong, ugly bridges like the Hohenzollern, the colorful locks actually improve the look of it. As I said to another commenter, maybe one way to control the fad would be if city governments designated one of their ugly bridges as the official LOL bridge. The problem isn’t going away, so maybe the solution is to try and establish some level of control. Bottom line: in most cases it’s a black and white issue, but a solution might be found in the gray. ~James

      • ‘This is most apparent on the Pont des Arts, which has been terribly degraded, both visually and structurally. In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine, which has itself been polluted by thousands of discarded keys…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.
        I would happily sign this petition!

  6. They’re a subtle form of vandalism. The ones promoting this ongoing fad are no doubt rubbing their hands all the way to the bank.

    In Venice, the city has gone to considerable expense (which they can ill afford), to remove locks and then modify the Accademia Bridge so locks can no longer be attached.

    I hope another less intrusive fad arises to capture the hearts of the lovelorn.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Yvonne, and well said. Most of the LOL cities we’ve visited actually advertise their bridge as a tourist attraction. To me, this sends a mixed message at best. As I said of London’s Millennium Bridge, the beautiful bridges in Venice are exactly the type of bridge that shouldn’t be trashed up with a bunch of ugly locks. But as we all know, young lovers do lots of crazy things. ~James

  7. Yes I’m on the vandalism side of the fence too. There are several bridges in Paris afflicted with these locks, they don’t add anything in the way of beauty, elegance or charm and with so many now it’s stopped being fun and quirky.

    • I absolutely agree with your last sentence Keiry. When we saw our first small LOL bridge in Helsinki, as you say: we thought that it was fun and quirky. But when I hear of and see attractive and historic bridges being damaged, then the charm goes away. ~James

  8. I, too, can see both sides of the argument. The first LOL bridge I ever saw was in Italy. I remember thinking what the hell are all those locks there for. I found several different versions of the origin of the “fad”. I even found a website where you can order a lock engraved with your names, date, whatever. Strange custom, if you ask me!

    • As I said to Kathy above, the Hohenzollern Bridge is pretty industrial looking and not very attractive, so I think in this case, the colorful locks actually help, but obviously this idea is a slippery slope. Maybe one way to control the fad would be if city governments designated one of their ugly bridges as the official LOL bridge. ~James

  9. I saw them in Paris for the first time this year and thought it looked like litter…then I heard that the key is actually thrown in the river. We seem to have no end to our sense of individual self-importance and yes I do sound like a curmudgeon!

    • I think in this case it’s OK to sound like a curmudgeon, because you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head – “no end to our sense of individual self-importance.” We’ve done a couple of graffiti posts with an “art or vandalism” slant. While researching for the post, I read an interesting statement that stated my opinion perfectly. It said that your right of freedom of expression ends where my property rights begin. This probably puts me in the curmudgeon camp as well. ~James

    • Like many issues Ginette, there’s the black, white, and gray sides. As I said earlier, I think that the Hohenzollern Bridge is pretty ugly and the locks actually improve the interest and look of the bridge. So I guess that in this particular case, I’m up on the fence with you. ~James

  10. Wonderful photos James and Terri, and certainly a controversial and interesting debate. I first heard of the ridge in Paris through fellow blogger Marie Keates post earlier this year. http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk

    Unfortunately her blog was hacked and destroyed so the post is gone but I have never heard of a similar practice here in the States.

    • Thanks Martha. One of the fun things about blogging is seeing the twists that a post takes. This topic obviously struck a nerve, that I didn’t really expect, but that’s a good thing in my mind. We know Marie as well, but didn’t see her post on the Paris bridge. I knew of her blog hack, and still don’t understand why someone would do that. Thieves stealing credit card numbers for profit, I understand, but hacking a personal blog? Weird, weird. ~James

    • I had read about this bridge in the tourist info, but had no idea that it had this many locks. The good thing about this bridge is that the weight won’t be a problem. I’m sure that thanks to some good German engineering it can take the load. ~James

  11. I’m not a romantic person at all, not in the slightest, but I think the idea of covering bridge fences with locks is pretty cool. Not something I’ve ever seen done before. I wonder, though – when some of these couples inevitably break up, will some of those jilted lovers track down their locks on the Cologne bridge and take them down? Maybe the city officials who want this love lock thing to end just have to be patient.

    • I think that the routine is that the couple locks the lock and then throws the key in the river as a sign of their everlasting love. So if they come back to retrieve the lock after breakup, then they need to bring their bolt cutters. ~James

  12. Good post.
    I happened to pass by Paris some time back and saw similar bridges there as well. It is a good concept, though I feel that when you are in love with someone, you need not tie him/her down; instead, you leave the person free, and if the love is indeed genuine, the relationship would only grow from one strength to another over time.

    • Thanks for the comment Ingrid, and for dropping by the blog. As I said to another commenter, the Hohenzollern bridge isn’t the most attractive, and this colorful display brightens it up a bit. ~James

    • Linda, we’ve seen the Riga bridge, and you’re right. I do love the wonderful park and stream where the Riga bridge is though. Enjoy your time in Cologne, and if you like Roman antiquities, don’t miss the German Roman Museum which is next door to the Dom. ~James

      • Thanks for the recommendation! If I go, it will be for a German bloggers meeting so not sure I’ll have time for museums though! And yes, that park is really pretty!

  13. We stumbled across this, quite literally, when we were in Koln earlier this year for the marathon. Commando and I did buy a cheap lock, scratched our initials on it and put it up. We have been married for decades with three children and two grandchildren but the romance is not quite dead yet. The fences on this bridge are very sturdy and seem to be almost made for the purpose so I doubt very much any damage is being done. As you said, the allies bombed it many times but didn’t destroy it. The Germans actually blew it up at the end of the war as the allies were coming towards it to stop them crossing but it has since been rebuilt.

    • Marie, it does my heart good to hear that you and Commando went for the full experience – lock and all. Hopefully, you shot a selfie for the kids and grandkids as well. This really is an ugly old bridge and I think the locks are an improvement. And good German engineering ensures that these locks won’t make a dent. Between the Central Station, Dom, LOL bridge, and the German-Roman museum, there was a lot going on in the area. ~James

  14. Well, this old Aussie curmudgeon thinks it looks nice and colourful, James … and it it don’t hurt, surely there ain’t need to fix it ?
    As for that bloke up, there, Curt M – tell him I pinch him very severely !!! [grin]

    • I’m with you M-R. I can’t agree with locks on Parisian bridges, or the Millennium Bridge in London, but this ugly old bridge needs all the dressing up it can get. And when I looked closely, there were lots of interesting locks. ~James

  15. Maybe ribbons might be a decent alternative? They’ll eventually decay and fall away, would weigh less (I took my inspiration from Buddhist prayer flags here)

    • That’s a great suggestion Chris, but I’m not sure it would go over with the romantics out there. The message is that their love will, like a steel lock, last forever. At least, that’s my read on it. ~James

  16. I guess this is a good photo op, but I’ve now seen these locks in several places and it does seem a bit like a fad gone wild. The part about weighing down the bridge and causing parts of it to collapse makes it really seem like the fad has gone out of control. What city and its taxpayers really want to spend hard-earned money to repair damages from this? Very interesting conundrum. 🙂

    • With most lovers, particularly young lovers, logic doesn’t seem to be a part of the picture. Until we saw the Cologne bridge, I had just thought that it was a fun and quirky idea, but with property damage and a threat to human life, it becomes something else. As a couple of people have said, this is a fad that isn’t going away, and hopefully, it will only end up with damage to bridges and not people. ~James

  17. Amazing number of locks! I saw this phenomenon this year for the first time on bridges in a couple of cities, such as St. Petersburg and Copenhagen, (I missed it in Helsinki), but there were so few locks I almost didn’t see them. It’s kind of cool done in this over-the-top fashion on one bridge, but it looks as if it’s getting out of hand, as others have said. Maybe a little wasteful of good locks, too? (That’s the boringly frugal and practical in me.)

    I hadn’t realized until I saw your close-ups that people even engrave names and dates on these locks. If people break up, how many return to remove these locks with bolt cutters? I wonder if many locks are placed by someone wishing to be in a more solid relationship?

    Hope the fish don’t swallow the keys!

    • I was in Copenhagen recently, and somehow missed the LOL bridge Cathy. The Helsinki bridge was just down the hill from the Uspenski Cathedral (the big red-brick Orthodox Church overlooking the harbor). But as I said, the Cologne bridge has to be the granddaddy of them all. And actually, the colorful locks help the look of an old, ugly train bridge. The number of locks on the bridge is amazing. ~James

      • I looked at my photos again and saw that the Locks of Love bridge was in Nyhavn in Copenhaven. Not that many locks yet.

        Our guide in St. Petersburg told us to look for locks of love on the rail around the canal in front of the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is a very popular place for brides and grooms to get their photos taken, despite the mob of tourists. I only saw a few locks. Perhaps the authorities remove them?

        I’ll post my photos on my blog and then link to yours. My locks of love offerings are so puny.

  18. After perusing all the comments and the range of reactions to the LOL bridge, I came to the conclusion that the locks are an improvement over carving ones initials into the trunk of a tree or painting one’s initials on a flat boulder (or wall or lamppost) as a method for expressing one’s devotion to another.

    I also think, if the public outcry were too vociferous that the locks were a form of vandalism, that young people would go out of their way to put locks in place as a form of protest. So unless authorities were to head off the placing of locks with the perpetual use of bolt cutters, it would seem the novelty of the LOL bridge is here to stay.

    Thanks for this whimsical look at this rather harmless custom. – Mike

    • You have a good perspective on the LOL bridges Mike. I haven’t seen the Paris bridge, but in the case of Cologne, it’s no harm, no foul. In fact, as I’ve said, the colorful locks improve the look of this ugly old bridge. One of the fun things about blogging is seeing the reaction that certain posts receive. To be honest, I didn’t know what kind of response this post would get, and what a surprise. It’s always fun when a post takes a twist from the expected. ~James

    • Hey Anita, long time no see. I hadn’t thought of this until your comment, but it would be a great business opportunity. Someone could set up a bolt cutter rental business at each end of the bridge. Ummm … and what about counselors as well. I see a thriving cottage industry here. ~James

  19. Hello James & Terri… it’s funny, long time ago you visited my blog – and today after a long time I visit yours – and what shall I say – few days ago you visited Cologne. I live nearby – just an hour from cologne and in August I was there by myself and visited the Hohenzollern Bridge (http://knettycraft.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/august-is-over-short-postscript/). And I must say: I was born in Berlin, a very exciting city and now live in Essen for 17 years… I love Cologne and I love even the locks on this bridge (what would that bridge be without the locks???) – it is interesting and a sign of a life- and loveful big city; and meanwhile it is an important tourist attraction too.
    If you are still in the area, perhaps you would like to visit the Mosella (Cochem, Beilstein, Trier…- we often go there for holidays and love this full of Romans footprint’s area). Welcome in Germany, kind regards, Annett

    • Thanks for the comment Annett, and for dropping by the blog. We rented an apartment and spent 3 months in Berlin some years ago, and really enjoyed it. Berlin has a rich history, and it was nice to spend a good amount of time there. This was our first trip back to Germany since our Berlin experience, and we are so glad that we returned. We visited Munich, Nuremburg, Bacharach, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. Each city was different, and we enjoyed them all. After this enjoyable trip, we decided that we will return in the future. ~James

  20. I am glad I don’t have to officially weigh in on this issue. I think it looks absolutely fascinating and adds a lot of character to what seems to be a very utilitarian-looking bridge.

    • You can probably tell from the comments LuAnn, that I agree with you, and in this particular case, the locks actually improve the look of the bridge. But you can also tell that not everyone agrees with us. ~James

  21. Wow! It’s crazy that this bridge doesn’t seem to get as much notice as the bridge in Paris. They look similarly overloaded. I can’t help but find it pretty. Hopefully this bridge doesn’t suffer damage as a result. Now they started doing it on one of the bridges crossing the Ohio River here in Cincinnati. My guess is they’ll put a halt to it quickly.

    • Prison of love – what a great phrase Jean. As I said in another comment, everyone seems to have a strong opinion on the Locks of Love, which is why they make the news, and appear on lots of blog posts. ~James

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