90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Debate Over ‘Love Locks’ On Paris Bridges

No one knows where this practice started, but hundreds of thousands of locks adorn bridges in Paris. (Carlo Occiena/Flickr)

No one knows where this practice started, but hundreds of thousands of locks adorn bridges in Paris. (Carlo Occiena/Flickr)

“Love locks” can be found on bridges from Australia to Italy, and even in U.S. cities like Norfolk, Virginia. The padlocks are latched onto pedestrian bridges and inscribed with vows of love. The keys are tossed into the water below as an testament of unbreakable devotion.

No one knows where the practice started, but hundreds of thousands of these locks adorn bridges in Paris. Some say it was from the 2006 novel, “Ho Voglia Di Te” (I Want You), by Italian author Federico Moccia, while other believe it was at the Seoul Tower in Korea.

Some feel this public demonstration of love is an eyesore. Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff are founders of the “No Love Locks” campaign. They’re worried not only about the aesthetic of these locks, but also the negative effect it’s having on the infrastructure of the historic footbridges.

The two have created a petition to press the Parisian government to remove the locks permanently and create an alternative way for people show their love.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Anselmo and Huff about their campaign.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Anon

    Those keys contain lead. They are tossing lead into the river.

    • Fred

      Oh they do not. Where in the world do you think people are obtaining locks from, the 1800′s? Modern lock keys do not contain lead.

    • John Rothgeb

      New keys don’t and even old keys didn’t contain lead for the most part. Generally speaking, lead was not used in the making of keys. Lead tends to be too soft, even when alloyed. Recently, some older and foreign house and automotive keys (not lock keys) have been shown to contain 1.5% lead, but even if thrown in a river lead and especially alloyed lead is NOT water soluble!

      Brass, bronze and iron have all been used to make keys since the
      invention of the lock. It the corrosion on the key looks green or blue,
      then the key is a copper alloy (brass or bronze is most likely). If
      the key rusts, then it is iron or an iron alloy.

      The only exception to this is the fact that ornamental keys have also
      been make for a long time. Some of these may have been made with
      pewter, which is an alloy containing lead.

      • Robin

        I just want to say I love our listeners.
        Carry on.

        • John Rothgeb

          Yes, but I’m amazed at the authoritarian bent of most of them with the “those are ugly”, “cut them off” and “fine them” comments. I would have expected a little more live and let live attitude, but from most comments you’d think WBUR is in Singapore LOL

  • originalname37

    If they want to get rid of the locks, they should just attach them to bikes. Leave them overnight and they will all be broken. :)

    • John Rothgeb

      Still the best and funniest solution, if a little impractical. Thanks!

  • Caroline

    Tha’s really ugly! Who cares how much you love – whatever – this is defacing public property. Why in the world would this be put up with? Locks should have been removed with metal cutters from the beginning – now it’s going to cost a fortune. People! Would you P-L-E-A-S-E grow up!!!! I’m happy I visited before this started.

    • John Rothgeb

      More unenforceable rules, yes, that is the solution. No doubt you don’t see art in street murals and graffiti (some is ugly and misplaced, but other definitely has artistic merit).

      I would guess you are one who lives in a housing development (or would like to) with rules where everyone’s house has to look the same, no different colored roofs or improvements that aren’t standardized and regulated and especially, horror of horrors, no one can dry their clothes on a clothes line or in the back yard. That is “really ugly” in people’s opinion as well, but then there are people who think Picasso’s work is “really ugly” and love Thomas Kinkade (bleech!).

      • J__o__h__n

        Why do some people have the right to ruin the look of a bridge with locks? Most graffiti isn’t Banksy. How is it unenforceable to remove a lock?

        • John Rothgeb

          Oh, it is enforceable all right (jail or execute anyone who tries), but we can’t enforce everything all the time and people need some outlets for self expression unless we want to govern like North Korea. Obviously it would require a much higher level of intent by authorities which currently isn’t happening. I don’t know, perhaps the French choose not to mess with “love”? Ask them. There is always going to be someone like you who doesn’t like “messy” things like these locks or other self expression in public spaces. The old man who obsessively tends his yard and rages about “those damn kids” in the neighborhood who draw on sidewalks with chalk. We can just squash all of it, or find innovative solutions like the one I offered that just might satisfy most parties. Where should we draw the lines? If we squash it and all others we risk losing our humor and soul. If we adjust to trends like this they generally just eventually fade away on their own, no harm, no foul.

          Yours (“enforcement”) is the same mentality that homeowner’s associations have where home owners have to have a certain color of roof and a certain type of landscaping (no xeriscape) and no clothes lines or they get fined. Why would we want to be so authoritarian to squash people’s expression of love?

          There is and should be a balance in a free society between spontaneous self expression in the public space and “rules” to keep everything manageable and respect others rights. We can choose to have a society that looks a little messy (skate boarders, subway buskers, locks on bridges, tennis shoes over electric lines, street performers, graffiti and murals on the sides of buildings, etc…) but is fairly free or we can have an authoritarian society with pin neat cities and public spaces like Singapore where unruly citizens and foreigners get caned for chewing gum. Personally, I think the messy free society is far more interesting and vibrant.

      • Lawrence

        It’s on PUBLIC property. That’s the problem. You have no right to use the bridge to leave your trash, declaring your undying love. Especially in light of the huge breakup and divorce rate. C’mon people! How many of these “undying” symbols of affection actually mean anything in the long term?

        • John Rothgeb

          Maybe your handle should be Emperor Lawrence so you can decide what is and isn’t appropriate in public spaces? Seriously, I’m astonished at all the “hang ‘em high” law and order attitudes here when the French authorities don’t seem all that upset about it at all. Relax folks, it isn’t Exxon or BP dumping tons of oil in our oceans, rivers or communities.

          • jonathanpulliam

            Tell that to those who lost loved ones in preventable accidents, bozo.

          • John Rothgeb

            Nice way to foist an ad-hominem attack on someone. Most accident are “preventable” if you know what the cause is (and that is often easy to see with 20/20 hindsight). Has a bridge collapsed? Has a lock fallen on someone in a tour boat yet? No. Has anyone been harmed by the “ugly” that some people feel the lock present? No. So where is your case of the “preventable accident” now (bozo)?

            I don’t pretend to think the locks are right or beautiful, just that this isn’t and shouldn’t be a zero sum game of “nolovelocks” against indiscriminate love lock usage. My only point (bozo) is that there should be a better solution that could generate revenue to maintain the bridges. How is that for a “bozo” point of view?

          • jonathanpulliam

            I called you Bozo because I seriously think you should start a circus.

  • John Rothgeb

    The solution is simple. The city should set up a booth that sells the locks with a permit to lock it to the bridge. Find a lock manufacturer that will make a lightweight lock that only has one key and can be inscribed. Set up a website where you can buy a lock, have it inscribed and waiting for you at the booth. If the cost is too high for some, then their friends and family could contribute to buy them a lock. Then, every so often a person goes and unlocks all the locks on the bridge so there is more room or maintenance can be done. The locks would be numbered and include postage so that they get mailed back to the people who put them on the bridge to symbolize their love (or they could be reusable). You could even include a photo of the lock on the bridge! This would serve several purposes:

    - Lighter custom locks would lessen the weight on the bridge.
    - One key would allow the bridges to be easily cleared from time to time for repairs (and sales would fund that removal).
    - Selling the locks, inscription, photo, mailing back etc.. would generate city revenue to keep the bridge in repair
    - It would employ a few people as well
    - It would keep and enhance the tradition of “love locks” while making it more compatible with the historic bridges and the area.
    - It would provide a memento for the people who visit to remind them to return.

    Hopefully a solution like this would keep everyone happy until the fad fades. Heck if it makes enough money build a dedicated bridge for “love locks”!

    • Carlos Sanchez

      Excellent idea, but probably not practical. These are mostly low-end locks ($5-10), and your idea would require a significant price bump (it seems lame to ask friends and family to contribute to their silly love statement) for lock, kiosk, labor, removal, postage, etc. Thus, these “approved” locks would be at least 5-10x what these lovebirds are paying now for a spontaneous(?) action. That will not wash for lovebirds.

      To me this is analogous to buying a spray can and gang-tagging bridges and historical crossings. It would be relatively easy to police, fine, and remove the locks as they are added. Fines are great for local revenue.

      • John Rothgeb

        Actually in most cases policing and fining for something like this costs more than it makes. Yes, it would require a price bump, but $40 or $50 for an engraving, lock, pic and the lock returned is far better than a $10 lock, $20 engraving (if you notice most of the locks are engraved) and a $200 fine. I prefer the positive route rather than the punitive one, but that is just me.

  • jane lauridsen

    two words: bolt cutters! At the gym, they just cut off locks that are left, daily.

  • bhm

    In the foreground of this picture I notice one combination lock, which somewhat amusingly undermines the whole concept: as long as you remember the combination, you can back out of the relationship. Kind of a bridge-lock pre-nup!

    • Dale Dapkins

      oh. . .you can’t back out in real life?

      • bhm

        Of course you can. But throwing the keys in the river is supposed to symbolize “unbreakable devotion” because the lock can supposedly never be unlocked again. This obviously isn’t true for a combination lock, so the original symbolic meaning is amusingly subverted. Of course in reality you can always back out, but the joke here is that you are making a big public symbolic declaration in brass and steel of the fact that you reserve the right to back out! Amusingly anti-romantic, whether intended as such or not.

  • Love Paris

    How about the city of Paris start removing the locks, melt them down and have a statue made from the metal dedicated to the “love” they represent. A fitting tribute to the many lovers that attached these locks to these beautiful bridges.

    • John Rothgeb

      That is an excellent idea! It does lack a way to generate revenue to maintain the bridge though. How about doing it regularly and making smaller statues (maybe commissioning artists to do unique ones or replicating a particularly good one) for sale to fund bridge renovations?

    • Charlie


  • Anon

    Hmm, I found several confirming sources for lead in house and car keys.


    I have found no online documentation about the visually similar padlock key metal and other manufacturing countries do not share America’s lead concern and still use lead and cadmium in alloys. Testing the keys would be required to be sure.

    • John Rothgeb

      These aren’t houses or cars if you notice (now that would be a terrible weight problem on bridges, but they did that in medieval and renaissance times LOL) and the lead in keys isn’t water soluble. Doh!

      • Lawrence

        Lead is alkaline and if the water has a less Ph than the lead, it would leach into the water.

        • John Rothgeb

          Barely alkiline (~7.5) and the Seine is much more alkaline, ~8.5 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seine) so then it wouldn’t. And that is only if the keys are made of an alloy of lead (still less than 1.5%). I guess it depends on whether they are made of brass (which sometimes has around 2% lead unless silicone is used) or steel. That would, of course, depend on the lock. Another reason to support my idea to have the city contract for the locks and have one and only one key pattern (and non-lead keys).

    • Lawrence

      No matter what the keys are made of, they don’t belong in the river.

  • jonathanpulliam

    The prudent designer of safe bridges, pedestrian or otherwise, must look askance at introduction of any amount of significant weight onto a project’s structural members which although nominally load-bearing, might not long endure application of any significant un-anticipated stresses or accompanying resonances and could actually fail catastrophically as a result. Therefore I feel we must reject out of hand the notion that it is desirable to permit people to announce their devotional intentions via application of comparatively-massive-for-their-size bronze alloy-encased padlocks to such structures, and most certainly NOT in the quantities depicted in the photo which accompanied this article.

    • John Rothgeb

      Ah yes, stomp on this silly sappy self expression with the jackbooted heel of authoritarianism. No need to find a better solution, “just say no”. After all, that worked so well in the U.S.A. for the War on Drugs now didn’t it? I’m sure we have plenty of laws to apply here and maybe we can use CSI to get fingerprints and DNA to track everyone of these outlaw lockers down and throw them in the dungeon where they belong LOL. If found, they should also have all their worldly goods confiscated as well probably to fund the enforcement effort. Then we should go after the gum stickers on sidewalks and under restaurant tables too! This will certainly make society a better place.

      You make a decent point about the mechanical engineering behind the bridge, but generally, bridges are WAY over-engineered and the French aren’t fools so I’m sure they would know how much is dangerous.

      Can’t we find a better way to make (mostly) everyone happy? Some solution without fines, arrests, new laws, police (dogs?) and jail time please?

  • Runningbull

    oh the French…just cut them off and if someone complains about their lock issue them a fine for “defacing public property” and “illegal dumping into the river”.

    • John Rothgeb

      Oh the Virginians too. Hire artists to cut them off regularly and commission an art work, perhaps sculpture, to be made out of them for a public space.

  • John Rothgeb

    Come on folks, this is France (and America) for goodness sake. The French love wine and love (and cheese and oh, good bread too) and they aren’t German! I’m a quarter German and I love Germany, but most of you have a “Ve must follow the rules and fine or jail anyone who doesn’t” attitude. Relax a little and must everything be so straight laced and rule bound? Do we want Paris and France or Virginia to be like Singapore (or worse North Korea)? How can we solve this (until it goes away) and let people have their dumb sappy self expression without having to stomp on it with jack boots?

    At least locks can be unlocked or cut off unlike carving initials into trees or spray painting with canned paint. Look on the bright side just a little!

  • Dale Dapkins

    some folks will complain about anything

    • John Rothgeb

      Exactly, it’s much easier and lazy to just complain rather than come up with a solution that works for everyone. So sad so many have such little imagination that all the can come up with is “NO” or “Fine them”.

  • Lynn

    Most of the people commenting here are missing the point. The weight of the locks are destroying the bridges. Every few months a grid has to be removed because of safety hazards and the tax payers (I happen to be one) are paying for these repairs. So, if you think your lock is still on the bridge, think again – it’s not! I wrote about this problem two years ago on my blog (itsallmaya.com) in a post entitled, If You Think Putting Locks On The Pont Des Arts Is Romantic – Think Again!!! The situation has deteriorated since then.

    If you look at that post you will see in the last photo I posted just how beautiful the Pont des Arts was before this horrible tradition started. You could sit on the benches and look out at one of the most famous views of Paris. Now when you sit, that view is obstructed by those ghastly locks!

    The French government is trying to do something about this problem, but perhaps many of you don’t know that it’s a never ending battle. France is the #1 tourist destination in the world. The population here in France is 65 million, but there are over 80 million tourist who come here every year and most of those tourists spend at least a few days in Paris. Why do these tourists feel the need to ruin our bridges? Why do they feel it’s all right to deface our landmarks? It has gotten worse and now locks are being placed on lampposts and even on our statues. They’re an eyesore and it was only a matter of time until people began to spray paint graffiti over these locks. Yes, you can see photos of this on my most recent post about this problem, No Love In Placing Locks On Bridges – Just Vandalism!

    Paris is the city of love because it also happens to be the most beautiful city in the world. If you need to declare your love, do it some other way! Declare your love for Paris by not placing a lock anywhere!

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.

September 11 9 Comments

Doctor: 9/11 Responders’ Illnesses Becoming Worse

A World Trade Center Health Program medical provider says chronic illnesses affecting first responders are lingering and becoming worse.

September 11 Comment

Dennis Lehane Takes ‘The Drop’ From Screen To Page

Author Dennis Lehane discusses adapting a screenplay into a novel.