Could Love Picking solve the Problems of Tonnes of Love Locks on Famous Paris Bridges?

While Paris City Hall continues to send out mixed signals about the tonnes of lovelocks clustered on some of its most famous bridges, a Dutch/American group offers one possible solution – Love Picking.

The US company Masterlock is cashing in on the love-locks craze.

The US company Masterlock is cashing in on the love-locks craze. Click the image to visit the Masterlocks site

Toool (The Open Organisation of Lockpickers), encourages its volunteers to help out city authorities where love locking has taken root. While following a strict code of ethics it offers to pick and remove the locks, keeping them safe for relocating elsewhere – mainly because it hates the sight of a “destroyed” lock that results from removals with heavy-duty bolt cutters.

Toool US claims its members have have been busy in several cities where local authorities have decided the love locks phenomenon is out of hand.

For Toool the options are these:

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Toool describes itself as “a growing group of enthusiasts interested in locks, keys and ways of opening locks without keys”. It was founded in 2002 in Amsterdam and there is a similar group in Germany (see Sportfreunde der Sperrtechnik). According to the Dutch founders while Toool US is a separate entity, Toool NL and Toool US enjoy close ties.

It is Toool US however that has seized the initiative where the controversy over Paris love locks is concerned.

The video below is from the Paris City Hall website and recounts some of the history of the love locks saga:

“J’ai envie de toi…” à Paris! par mairiedeparis

Referring to the love locks overload in Paris Toool US says it is neither for nor against love locks themselves. “Everyone’s feelings are their own and every public structure is under the purview of local laws, norms, and customs. What we find particularly distressing is the destructive cutting of these locks and their ultimately being assigned to scrap bins and metal recycling centers. It is for this reason that we were so inspired by the emerging trend known as Love Picking.

“Originally popularised and publicised by German sportpickers and hackers, Love Picking is the act of non-destructively opening love locks using pick tools, shims, and other such methods so as to preserve them and eventually relocate them elsewhere… typically someplace where they will still be on public display but will be safe from the threat of bolt cutters, angle grinders, and municipal recycling buckets”. It reminds those of its members who plan to be involved in love locks and the act of Love Picking to remember that, as with all locksport, “certain ethical principles apply and TOOOL members must always follow them”.

It goes on: “…Locks symbolize permanence, security… and openness only to those limited few who possess the right key. It’s safe to assume that TOOOL members everywhere have a deep appreciation for this trend… The aim and purpose of TOOOL is the promotion of hobbyist lockpicking and sportpicking and the general education of the public on matters of locks and security on a non-profit basis. The term “sportpicking” refers to all public competitions that focus on non-destructive methods of opening or bypassing physical security devices.”

Meanwhile there are signs that Paris, led by its recently-elected new Socialist mayor Anne Hildago, may be wavering over how to handle the controversy caused by the 700,000 love locks now covering various bridges and other monuments in the capital. On the Pont des Arts alone this contested forest of locks is thought to weigh some 40 tonnes.

As momentum appears to be growing behind an online petition — currently boasting  6,268 signatures –  and campaign to halt the fad  of fixing engraved padlocks of all shapes and sizes to the Passerelle des Arts, the City Hall website notes:
“It is wonderful to see such a vast amount of devoted couples; however the ritual is posing several problems due to the weight of the thousands of small steel padlocks. Certain sections of the railings are becoming weakened under the weight and sections of the grates require regular replacement. Frequent inspections are carried out in search of segments of bent grating that must be removed and replaced. Two railings were replaced in July and one in August. Is the Passerelle des Arts to become a victim of the lovebirds who wish to solemnise their enduring love?

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However not all Parisians or visitors are opposed to the locks and many disagree with the views of Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff — the joint founders of the No Love Locks website — that the locks are polluting Paris.

Here are a couple of arguments in support of the phenomenon, written by commenters on the No Love Locks website:
APRIL 5, 2014 AT 3:38 PM
While I would like to support your cause, I cannot say that I agree with many of your arguments. For one, the “visually unpleasing” argument is neither objective nor capable of being validated or substantiated. As in the case of subjective personal love, beauty has always been “in the eye of the beholder,” and to many of the thousands of people who placed a lock on one of those bridges, I am sure there is a rather charming aesthetic and symbolism in doing so. Also, the argument for preserving cultural heritage is basically invalid, sorry. At the point in which placing a lock on a bridge in Paris became a cultural phenomenon, regardless of when that came about, (culture here defined as relating to the ideas,customs, and social behavior of a society), stopping this behavior altogether would itself be the removal of a certain part of the cultural heritage of Paris, regardless of whether or not you like the practice. From an engineering perspective, yes, the locks will eventually cause damage to the underlying structures. This costs the city time and money, and may become a safety concern. However, with regular inspections (which I hope the city performs anyway) this practice should not become a serious issue given the right precautions. I guess my real point is this: all this site seems to offer is grievances and does not offer any real solutions except “stop.” Why not try reinforcing the railings on one of the bridges where this is a known practice, why not try installing cheap, intentionally designed panels in one section of the bridge that can the be periodically removed and “preserved” as some sort of exhibit elsewhere in Paris where it is not a structural issue. Surely, with the many hundreds of thousands of locks placed on these railings, if the city just charged a nominal fee to do so, there would be no pitfall in the local economy for allowing the practice. In addition, if one were to open up an alternate site to display the panels of locks in a location that will not upset your preconceived notions of what Paris “should” look like, while simultaneously keeping the romantic practice alive and causing it to have a positive influence on the economy of Paris, would that be ok? Because I honestly feel as if something like that is a much better solution. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the symbolism of the practice, to other people involved, it has real, tangible meaning, regardless of how tacky or mushy that sounds to you. And until you can come up with real, hard facts about how much this is costing the city and the quality of life of the average individual, and disclose the information on your website in a manner that makes a succinct argument while weighing in on alternatives to your gut reaction of what needs to be done, I cannot see that the city of Paris would take this campaign to heart. Again, I would like to see the practice changed or even curbed, and I agree that it is entirely nonsensical to require that sort of “symbol.” All I am trying to say is, once there are substantial facts and figures up about what kind of damage these locks are causing, you will actually have a case here. And maybe, just maybe, something positive can be done for both sides of this issue, or at least some compromise can be made.”

This view was rebuffed by a Parisian living and working on the Left Bank:
APRIL 7, 2014 AT 7:10 PM
Dear Greg,
It seems that you enjoy having a case .But you got to have some more informations about Paris and its culture to argue , the French exception , you might have heard about , Sure we can find a great creative solution which won’t be cheap for all lovers coming to Paris to celebrate. There had been many major Art performances on this bridge , which is just in front of the Institut de France ,and a few steps from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris , I think just take your nose up of your law books and come on the passerelle des Arts .
Love from Paris”

Later, and writing in French, Paul notes
“… While I may agree with the arguments concerning the potential danger that these locks might do (to the bridges) , I do not support remarks such as ‘these locks are not a tradition’ ‘ these locks are not art’. In my view it is not be the task of artists to declare unilaterally if something is art or not: graffiti on Notre Dame is certainly provocative , and is therefore not art, but the same can not be said of the love locks; such views are subjective and condescending, because anything can become a work of art if it is so in the mind of the author. …” . Directly addressing the two Americans behind the petition he goes on “I congratulate you if you can implement a solution that preserves the integrity of the bridge, but I am all for liberalism when it comes to culture …”

French News Online was the first French newspaper in English to report on the original love locks back in May 2010. It was also the first to break the story of the No Love Locks campaign, a story which Google stats show now has 44,300,000 mentions.

Read all our Paris love locks stories since 2010 here:

Story: Ken Pottinger

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