John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A group of urban hackers spent a day in Bamberg destroying people's public expressions of everlasting love.
Lovebirds in Bamberg, Germany, have an interesting way of showing commitment. They buy a padlock, scribble their names on it and affix it to a chain bridge in the city center, throwing the key into the river below. That way, anytime they pass by the bridge they'll see their "love lock" hanging there as a symbol of their everlasting affection, which despite the punishing blows of time's arrows can never be broken.
Although it certainly can be lockpicked, as Berlin-based artist Mey Lean Kronemann demonstrated recently during a space-hacking workshop in Bamberg. Kronemann and her urban interventionists were wandering around downtown, looking for artistic opportunities, when the padlock-infested blight of the bridge presented itself. She writes:
Early ideas included seed-bombing the federal horticultural show and knitted graffiti with electroluminescent wire, but our ideas kept circling around the chain bridge (Kettenbrücke) in Bamberg and the many Love Padlocks there. We were discussing ideas such as attaching a lock stating "Just divorced" or an open lock symbolizing an open relationship, when one of the participants said "Wait, I brought a lockpick set!"
So we held a live lockpicking workshop. After all, this place held loads of padlocks for practice. (And for some unknown reason couples seem to use particularly cheap locks for demonstrating their everlasting love.)...
Many passers-by were interested in what we were doing. Since we did not break nor steal anything, nobody said anything against our preoccupation. Many people liked the idea, agreeing that padlocks are a very bad symbol for love.
After neutralizing a number of padlocks, Kronemann's group linked them up in a single long chain just for fun. Their afternoon of work left multiple relationship pacts shattered but made the bridge look much better. Given the insidious spread of love padlocks all over the world, perhaps public-works departments should begin contacting this heartbreak crew for cleanup duty.
Click here to see a photographic diary of the hacking marathon, which Kronemann confesses left her feeling a little guilty for destroying people's personal treasures. But whoever said love was forever?
Top photo of "love locks" in France courtesy of Melanie Ko on Flickr.