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Folklorists baffled over 'love locks' in Cologne

DDP/The Local · 26 Jan 2010, 12:02

Published: 26 Jan 2010 12:02 GMT+01:00

Commemorating couples’ devotion to each other, the padlocks of amour on the Hohenzollernbrücke are being studied by Rhineland regional authority (LVR) folklorist Dagmar Hänig.

“At first it was only about 10, but then there were more,” she said, adding the first started appearing in the summer of 2008.

There are now more than 1,000 locks from lovebirds around the world hanging on a fence along the bridge’s pedestrian path. Some scratch their initials in the metal locks, while others have gone as far as having them professionally engraved to honour anniversaries and weddings, Hänig said.

According to the new custom, couples close the Liebesschloss and then toss the key into the Rhine to signify their enduring love.

But the origin of the young tradition remains a mystery, Hänig said.

“It could be a modification of practice by Italian military academy graduates,” she said, adding that she has been seeking the help of other folklorists internationally.

Young Italians in Florence are said to attach their old locks from their military lockers to bridges as a symbol of their new freedom. Since the 1990s these have been known as amorchetti. A bridge in Rome has also attracted lovers' locks. But how they could have come to Germany – and beyond in places like Riga, Kaliningrad, Siberia and China - remains a mystery, Hänig said.

Now people in Cologne are also honouring family, friends and organisations with love locks, which she said are an extension of Germany’s “modern and individualised society.”

While love generally goes without controversy, national rail provider Deutsche Bahn reportedly took issue with the commemorative locks and threatened to remove them for safety reasons. But they have since reconsidered.

“The Hohenzollernbrücke is among the most heavily trafficked bridges in Europe,” a spokesperson said. “A few extra kilogrammes of metal are more or less insignificant.”

Story continues below…

Meanwhile the city’s environment ministry said it sees no danger to the Rhine ecosystem due to the keys.

“An old bicycle in the Rhine weighs more than a thousand keys,” a spokesperson there said, adding that the keys would be carried downstream anyway.

Citing recent reports of love locks spotted in Bottrop and Oberhausen, Hänig said she planned to continue following how the practice develops in Germany in hopes of finding its root.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

12:59 January 26, 2010 by discsid
Yeah, this is absolutely shrouded in mystery, a layer of fog so dense that it covers a big NY Times article on how this practice is applied in Rome.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/world/europe/05iht-rome.4.6991537.html

D'oh!
13:45 January 26, 2010 by ECSNatale
My thoughts exactly Duckworth. Why is it in the age of the internet that people are unable to do the simplest of searches before they feel compelled to share their "thoughts and beliefs" about something? Drives me nuts!
15:35 January 26, 2010 by Mr_V
Hmm, the NY Times article, published in 2007, states that this Moccia chap created the "tradition" out of whole cloth "last year" (i.e. 2006). Yet when I visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall back in 2002, I noticed thousands of locks with tiny red ribbons tied to a special chain along the rampart ­ I even have photographic proof.

I've often wondered at the significance of those locks. I wasn't at the wall with any of my local friends, and I forgot to ask them afterwards.
16:22 January 26, 2010 by DoubleDTown
I love that the city's environment ministry spokesperson adds "that the keys would be carried downstream anyway."

As long as stuff goes downstream, what's to worry Koeln? :-)
20:05 January 26, 2010 by ndrs
@Duckworth: So far I know, in Riga/Latvia this tradition lives mainly within the Russian community founded by Soviet immigrants in 1950s-60s. Is it possible that the number of Russians in Köln is risen to the level that makes this tradition visible there?

Walls of rusty locks are not nice, though.
23:01 January 26, 2010 by antrodemus
A couple of random searches turned these up:

http://englishrussia.com/?p=4857

http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo/vagabonderz/thebighoneymoon/1191394320/08xwedding-lock.jpg/tpod.html

This is common in many cities in Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic, as well as in Rome.
03:31 January 27, 2010 by Davey-jo
Is he being paid to poke his nose into private affairs? Why can't there be mysteries anymore? He should get lost.
07:31 January 27, 2010 by mprulez
I would need a numbered lock than throwing the key in the rhine...who knows when I need the lock back !!!! :P
16:34 January 29, 2010 by Diggger
My heart skipped a beat for a second when I saw this as I thought that a lost branch of my family had been discovered ... my surname is Lovelock and I have been reported as being seen in Hamburg!
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