There is something about traveling by train that I find very relaxing – I can spend hours just looking out of the window, watching the landscapes change, getting little glimpses of the lives of people living close to the railway. And while I often say I take the plane as easily as I take a train (making a habit of long-distance relationships tends to have that effect), I still find flying much more stressful. Getting to the airport, checking in, security, boarding, getting out, hoping your luggage comes through, … I am never completely at ease until my bags and I have arrived at my destination. Obviously, taking the train can also cause stress, especially when you accidentally take a regional train instead of the direct train, reducing the transfer time from 32 minutes to… well, zero, but since that has never happened to me (eh…), and since I am pretty sure I would be lucky enough for the connection to be delayed by a minute allowing me to still catch it (I was born lucky, I swear), I would argue that is totally beside the point here.
When traveling by train you generally don’t get the nicest impression of the cities and towns you go through: back alley’s, abandoned cars and fridges and a lot of graffiti are most often among the highlights. Not so in Cologne, where you get a beautiful view of the Cathedral when you enter the train station, and you get to cross the Hohenzollern Bridge.
I don’t get easily impressed by bridges: Sweden is connected to Denmark by the Øresundsbron, a combined twin-track railway and dual carriageway bridge-tunnel almost 8 kms in length, and Cologne’s simple river-crossing construction almost appears plain and bland in comparison. There is however, something that the Hohenzollern bridge can boast, that only few other bridges can.
More specifically, love padlocks.
In the summer of 2008, these love locks have started to appear on the pedestrian bridge. Lovers, friends and families alike, affix locks to the metal grid of the bridge to symbolize their love for each other. I’ve only been able to see the multitude of locks from behind a train window, but here you can find several close-up pictures of individual locks, some of which have been engraved with the names of the lovers or were decorated by hand.
The phenomenon is not new, but has had a boost a few years back after the best-selling novel “I want you” by Federico Moccia (anyone read it? or even heard of it?) featured a couple young lovers doing just that at the Ponte Milvia in Rome. The craze spread quickly, and love locks now hang from bridges in Paris, Seoul, Moscow, and many other cities. They are not without controversy, however, since they are considered an ‘eyesore’ by many city officials. Only last week, the city of Venice decided on a massive clean-up campaign of the city’s bridges, including the Ponte dell’Accademia and the Ponte Rialto, because the rusting locks were damaging the age-old stones of the bridge.
To be fair, I think it’s cute – I’m a hopeless romantic and although I would never do it myself, there is something endearing about the idea of ‘locking your love’, on a bridge in particular, which by definition connects two places that were separated before. And while I understand the locks may actually damage the bridge and can thus be regarded as vandalism, there is always a middle way : in Rome special railings were erected when the lamp posts on the Ponte Milvia threatened to collapse under the weight of the padlocks. No doubt the street vendors selling padlocks and the many café’s that have recently opened in the neighborhood preferred this to a padlock-ban…