In Europe, bridges don’t look like they used to. Over the course of years, many famous bridges have become weighed down with excess metal in the form of padlocks. Tradition, hearsay and plain nonsense suggests that two lovers who fix a padlock to a bridge and throw the key in the river will seal their love for eternity. Prepared romantics engrave a lock with their names and date and make a pilgrimage to their bridge of choice. With a kiss and click their love becomes as permanent as the padlock with a missing key.
Across Europe, these padlocks damage historic bridges and the police routinely must remove them. In Ljubljana, Slovenia we found a bridge recently constructed to accommodate this quickly growing trend (see photos). Little Man (2.5 years old) enjoyed playing with the locks like an abacus for quite some time. As I photographed the locks on the pedestrian Mesarski Bridge, something quite striking caught my eye. It was ingenious. It was brilliant. A parenting coup d’etat. After the first, many more began to catch my eye. Pacifiers.
I assume the conversation goes something like this. “Okay sweety, here we are. See all these locks? They mean people made a big decision and a big commitment. Today, you are going to make that commitment. We will lock your pacifier to this special bridge and you will throw the key into the river. Whenever you miss your binkie, you can remember that it is here, along with this host of other symbols of commitment. Today, you make us very proud by taking this very important step.” Tears. Hugs. Kisses. With the binkie secured to the bridge and the key in the river, this was possibly the location of a significant emotional event for many a small child. Perhaps they will redeem the bridge-lock experience when they are older, leaving behind a lock that symbolizes eternal union, not eternal separation.
The locks on this bridge – the world’s longest Tibetan style suspension bridge, located in Reutte, Austria – were a little more suspect. Only a year and half old, the bridge has not had much time to acquire the excess load. One would think commitments made on this bridge were destined to last. One must walk 20 minutes up a steep incline and pay the equally steep admission fee to walk across the bridge. However, as I read the engravings on the handful of padlocks dangling hundreds of feet above the ground, I wondered what did they do with the key? Signage made it clear nothing was to be thrown off the bridge into the forest or, forbid, the highway below. Did they simply walk off the bridge with the key in their pocket? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Will their love last or has it been jinxed? Or is this bridge where those with halfhearted commitments come to seal their love with washable glue? Perhaps the Highline 179, as it is known, should be renamed The Bridge of Fickle Love. Of course, to the pacifier-wielding child who is forced to leave behind their comfort, locked to the bridge, it might be called The Bridge of ‘There’s Still Hope,’ if the rule-abiding parents walk off the other end with the key safely secured in their pocket.