I spotted the French version this summer (see images above and below), which is now spreading to other bridges spanning the Seine.
I couldn’t quiet those tech-nerd voices in my head: were these railings designed to safely bear the weight of hundreds of thousands of steel and brass locks? And what about all those keys chucked into the river? Visually interesting for certain, but is this art or an urban eyesore?
The craze is believed to have started in Asia, and Wikipedia counts 34 lock-laden nations. Algeria’s version is too new to rate a mention on that website, but the bridge in the Telemly area of Algiers marks the Middle East and North Africa’s first foray into the phenom.
Love is a loaded subject in Muslim countries where publicly demonstrated affection is often taboo. Couples place locks in Paris then tuck into lengthy open-air smooches.
The Algiers version is more nuanced: individual participants steer away from commemorating personal relationships and instead celebrate love of nation, family and friends.
Journalist and co-organizer Mehdi Mhenni also downplays any emphasis on romantic love, instead suggesting that the installation stands as a symbol of Algerian unity.
Conservative Salafists have condemned the work, accusing youth of mimicking Western trends rather than celebrating Islamic ideals. They’ve been cutting the padlocks off at night, replacing them with banners bearing Quranic verses, upsetting the organizers and local residents who see the locks as a positive community action.
Algiers resident Karim tweeted, “For me, everyone should be free to express themselves as they please. It’s about respecting and supporting one another’s choices.”
Criticism has also been directed towards Le Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), Algeria’s secret information service, who are believed to stir up public fear of reprisal over citizen actions viewed as menial in other nations.
The DRS is also accused of controlling Algerian media, negatively propagandizing innocuous events like the Love Bridge in order to keep Algerian society in line with conservative mores.
Back in Paris, authorities have also been removing locks, citing potential for fatal injury given that tourist boats sail beneath the decorated bridge.
“Any relatively heavy object falling from a certain height could cause a passenger an injury, or even a fatal blow,” Mayor of the city’s 6th arrondissement, Jean-Pierre Lecoq told RTL radio.
Authorities perform regular checks on the pressure that the weight exerts on the bridge to ensure that the structure isn’t overwhelmed by love. “Our agents do regular inspections. When they find that any part of the grill has been warped by the locks, they remove it, and put a new one in place,” an official told France 3.
Parking love aside, the bridge in the Algerian capitol can be viewed as symbolic of a divided society. Is it a sign of a cultural revolt, or just some fun the whole city can play?
We need the fish point of view about all those keys chucked over the rails.