Love Locks – A Call for Responsible Tourism

Love locks on a purpose made structure in Budapest, Hungary.

Everlasting Love and Property Damage

With this post, I’m taking a break from Czech specific subject matter to address the trend of love locks. While the exact time and place of when the phenomenon started is a matter of debate, what is not in debate is that the act of couples in love attaching a padlock to a local structure like a bridge has affected localities worldwide.

Unfortunately, the trend is a very short sighted and damaging one on many levels. Through this piece, I hope to raise some awareness of the downsides of the love lock craze and how one can go about it responsibly should they choose to engage in it.

At that, let’s take a look at the tradition and its side effects:

Liberty Bridge and the Danube in Budapest. A popular taget for love locks.
Liberty Bridge and the Danube in Budapest. A popular taget for love locks.

Defacement, Vandalism and Littering

On a recent trip to Budapest, I was crossing Liberty Bridge and taking in the view of the castle hill and the river boats cruising the Danube below. While taking all this in, it’s easy to see why responsibilities may be the furthest thing from the minds of a couple in love thinking of hanging a lock to represent their romance. It is a truly romantic vista.

However, in many localities, hanging of love locks falls under the same laws that govern graffitti and other forms of vandalism. For example, both Rome and Venice have countered the love lock trend by placing bans on the practice.

If one looks at it from the point of view of a city full of historic sites, many of which may have protected status either nationally or internationally, there is certainly an incentive to preserve the sights in their historical context and intended forms. Countless padlocks hanging from these structures only detract from that goal.

In the context of bridges, one must also keep in mind that the weight of thousands of padlocks hanging off of them was not something they were designed to withstand. The structural strain seen in 2014 on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris from roughly 45 tons of locks hung from it and the subsequent removal of lock burdened panels from the bridge in 2015 are stark evidence of this. In the wake of that incident, Paris officials actively have encouraged people not to engage in the practice.

Love locks on a bridge in Graz, Austria. Signs of corrosion evident on all of them.
Love locks on a bridge in Graz, Austria. Signs of corrosion evident on all of them.

Many bridges are also metal structures for which corrosion control is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week concern. Locks cause problems in this regard on at least two fronts:

Firstly, They damage the paint and other coatings designed to protect the bridge from the elements simply by their weight and through abrasion caused from people manipulating them.

Secondly, Most padlocks tend to start corroding soon after exposure to the elements. This corrosion does not stay limited to the locks, it spreads to the metal structures the locks hang from thus compounding an already ever present maintenance issue.

Corrosion is a bigger and more insidious problem for the waterways which run under the bridges. Part of the love lock tradition involves throwing the key to your lock into the water that runs under the bridge once you’ve placed the lock. Just as the locks corrode, so do the keys. While many places regularly send out city workers to cut locks from the bridge spans, cleaning a huge pile of rusting lock keys from the bed of a river is another matter entirely and not so easily addressed. The health and environmental ramifactions of years worth of rusting keys at the bottom of a major river is rather sobering if you think about it.

Using the Danube as an example; it is a river that along its 2,860 kilometer length touches 10 countries directly and serves as a source of drinking water for roughly 20 million people. At this point it should be noted that some sections of the Danube are already so polluted that no degree of water purification can make the water in those areas fit for drinking.

The Danube touches more municipalities along its length than any other river in the world, almost 100 population centres in all. That’s a lot of people depending on the river for a variety of reasons. Many of those cities have bridges with locks hung upon them, and their corresponding keys under the water below.

More rusting locks in Graz.
More rusting locks in Graz.

Looking beyond the Danube to its tributaries and river basin, we find an area of 801,463 square kilometers comprising 19 countries. Many of the Danube’s over 100 tributaries are large enough to be navigable themselves. How many bridges over Danube tributaries have locks loaded onto them, who knows?

That’s just the human dimension. The Danube is home to a variety of ecosystems and has around 20 major national parks placed along it’s length which are home to many species of animal and plant, several of them seriously threatened.

The delta which forms the terminus of the Danube at the Black Sea is home to over 300 bird species and nearly 50 species of freshwater fish. It has been a UNESCO listed biosphere region since 1991.

While you may not think beyond that one little key of yours, remember there could be years worth of keys rusting away under bridges all along the course of a river. All kinds of keys made of all kinds of metals; changing the chemical balance of the water, adding to water pollution and if nothing else a case of you littering.

I don't know Phil and Helena, but I feel confident in saying their lock didn't last past October of 2015.
I don’t know Phil and Helena, but I feel confident in saying their lock didn’t last past October of 2015.

A Right and Wrong Way for Everything

During my walk along Liberty Bridge, I noticed two city employees not far behind me clipping locks off with a set of bolt cutters. It was sad in a number of ways:

Firstly, Budapest is one of several cities worldwide that have responded to the love locks trend by setting up special structures designed expressly for locks to be placed on. Within easy walking distance of the bridge is just such a structure on Elisabeth Square in the heart of the city. With such a thing in place, there truly is no reason to hang locks on the bridges.

Secondly, The two city workers stuck with the job of clipping off the locks could certainly have been given more meaningful tasks had the locks been put on the specified structure instead of the bridge.

Another view of  Budapest's specified love lock structure.
Another view of Budapest’s specified love lock structure.

Third, Many of the locks are quite unique in design or those who have placed them went to some expense having them engraved for the purpose. Knowing that the locks will be cut off sooner than later, it really is a waste of money for them to do such things.

If you insist on hanging a love lock, please be responsible and contact the tourist information office of the place you plan to visit and ask if they have a specified site for people to hang the locks. Several cities have established such places, so it’s definitely worth checking into no matter where you plan to go.

As for the keys; if there’s metal recycling bins where you travel, put the key there. If not, hang onto it until you can find an appropriate disposal spot.

The Czech Angle  

Love locks seen in the vicinity of Brno’s landmark Špilberk fortress.

From what information I’ve come across, while love locks have found their way into the Czech Republic they have not appeared much outside of Prague itself.

Unfortunately, Brno is one of those places the activity has made an appearance. As a resident of Brno, I’m sincerely unhappy to see this in my home.

I love to share my city with vsitors, but I dislike tremendously the idea of Brno’s historical attractions being devalued in such an inexcusable and unneccesary way as love locks.

And that is probably the best note to end this piece on. When you’re a tourist, you’re in someone else’s home. You will come and go while others live there year round. For you, it’s a moment in your life; for them, it is their life.

Just like you, they have a way they like to keep their home and don’t like disrespect shown to it. Don’t do things in someone else’s home that you wouldn’t like done in your own.

Further Reading

Here’s a selection of links to websites and articles that will provide you with more food for thought regarding love locks:

The “No Love Locks” initiative was set up in France in the wake of the Pont des Arts bridge incident:
Libérez votre amour. Sauvez nos ponts.

This article goes more indepth with regards to love locks in Prague:

As I used the Danube as the primary example in this piece, I’ll also provide the website of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River: