The Hohenzollern Bridge across the Rhine near the Cologne Railway Station is a rare sight for visitors to Cologne. On either side of the railway tracks and protected by steel net grills, are pedestrian walkways used by thousands of people everyday. The gigantic statues of Kaisers Wilhelm I, II, III and IV astride their horses, stand guard at either ends of the bridge. This is called the “Bridge of Love.” Lovers and newly weds walk hand in hand, affix a lock engraved with their names to the steel netting, and throw the key down into the swirling waters of the Rhine, as a symbol of their eternal love for each other. Over the years, padlocks of different shapes, sizes and colours have covered the surface of this partition, especially on the left side, so that it has begun to sag with the weight. Some have put handcuffs on either sides of the lock. Cans, bicycle chains, padlock formations present a kaliedoscope of colours and have turned the bridge into a work of Art. But the Deutsche Bahn which is responsible for the bridge is not happy with this display. Some time ago it threatened to saw off all the locks, but had to retract its decision because of public outcry.
In a world where the term ‘love’ has almost become defunct, and changing partners frequently has become a way of life, one can only wonder at these symbols of love. Do lovers cut the wires and release the locks when they break up? At one end of the bridge, a blacksmith has set up shop, to carve initials or names on the padlocks. The locks however, are not sold on the bridge but must be brought by the couples. At the other end is a flower shop selling red roses for those who want to decorate their locks. And on the floor of the walkway is painted this cryptic message, “Love is only a four-letter word.”
The original Hohenzollern bridge which was smaller and less pretentious was destroyed during WW II. It was reconstructed in 1948 and took eleven years to build. Love locks began to appear on the bridge since 2008. As there is hardly any place on the left side, lovers will have to start using the right side.
The concept of a Bridge of Hearta first originated in Ponte Milivio in Italy. But many countries like Lativia, Hungary, Uraguay and Guam also have such bridges. The craze has now spread to other bridges in Germany. But none of them are as yet heavy laden as the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne.
By Eva Bell