Started some time in the 1990s, the tradition of locking engraved padlocks has proliferated around Europe to the point that it has become a serious form of vandalism in certain cities. The symbolic act often sees a couple mark their name on a standard padlock and affix it to a piece of public infrastructure (usually a bridge or fence) and then throw the key away (often into the water under the bridge). The unlockable symbol is now free to represent the couple’s love for as long as the public site remains (or until the city sends officials out to cut the locks off, which is likely a more accurate representation of a relationship’s duration). The ritual is not dissimilar from carving initials into a tree, but when there aren’t very many trees, a historic suspension bridge will have to do.
Since the locks are damaging to the bridge, they are regularly removed. However, a group of lock pickers has been active in working to remove them first and preserve them rather than have them discarded.
Know Before You Go
Best to walk at sunrise, not sunset. Significantly fewer crowds, and the sunrise reflects off the buildings of lower manhattan.