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Paris - Paris is auctioning on Saturday the “locks of love” that once adorned the French capital’s bridges. Clamped there by tourists and lovers over the past decade, the locks, whose weight brought some structures to near-collapse, were considered an eyesore by Parisians.

“This is the first-ever auction of love locks in the world,” auctioneer Olivier Collin du Bocage said in a phone interview. The city hopes to rise between 150 000 Euros [$163 000] and 200 000 Euros from the sale, he said. Proceeds will go to charities helping refugees.

Although the origins of the love-lock trend, which started around a decade ago, are unclear, it became a global phenomenon, with locks found on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, the Great Wall of China, near the Millennium Bridge in London and on Stockholm’s bridges.

In the French capital, much to the dismay of Parisians, it became a tradition for lovers, mostly tourists, to attach metal locks to bridges, starting with the Pont des Arts, a metal and wooden pedestrian structure that has linked the Louvre museum to the left-bank Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighbourhood since 1804. As they ran out of room on the Pont des Arts, lovers sought out others bridges, rails on the Seine River’s banks and street lamps, triggering a massive outcry from the city’s residents.

City of Locks

In 2015, Paris City authorities removed the locks from the Pont des Arts, following the collapse of a 200-kilogram grate. The estimated 50-ton weight of the locks was seen to be threatening the structure, which is on the Enesco’s World Heritage sites list.

Much water has flown under Paris’s bridges since. The locks have been removed and grates have been replaced by glass panes, preventing new love locks from appearing. Also, Paris, one of the world’s most-visited cities, has seen its tourist industry hit following the terrorist attacks in 2015 and labour protests in 2016.

Now, the City of Paris hopes to get rid of a good chunk of the locks in a creative and productive way.

 

The charity auction will be conducted by the Credit Municipal de Paris, a local government-managed bank that offers loans and funding help to disadvantaged Parisians. Money raised has been earmarked for the non-profit organizations Emmaus, the Salvation Army and Solipam to fund aid for refugees as the French capital struggles to cope with an influx of migrants from poverty and war-stricken countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Romantic Americans

The locks are on display until their planned auction at 3 p.m. on May 13, with bids also possible online, according to details on the website of Credit Municipal de Paris.

“Already from our online site, we can see that the auction is attracting much attention, notably from abroad,” Theo Recoules, a Paris City Hall adviser in charge of the auction, said in a phone interview. “This bodes well for the sale.” The foreigners most interested are Americans, “a very romantic lot,” followed by Italians, Brits, and Russians and Chinese, he said.

 

A 90-page auction catalog describes 165 batches, ranging from straight handfuls of 5 to 20-odd locks to elaborate presentations, some of which include a bridge grid and weigh over a metric ton. While most starting prices are set at 150 Euros to 200 Euros, heftier lock loads are estimated at 5 000 Euros to 8 000 Euros.

“Some of the locks have been set on precious wood, a lot of has been done to clean them up and present them as true pieces of art,” Collin du Bocage said, when asked why some of the locks are so expensive.

 Revolutionary Cobblestones

Apart from those removed from the Pont des Arts, the batches on sale will also include locks from the Archbishop’s bridge, which leads to the island on which the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral stands. In all, the batches for sale represent around 7 percent of the total weight of the locks removed from Paris structures.

“This is not much but most of the locks have deteriorated during their removal as they spent a lot of time outside,” he said.

Some items feature locks dangling over a “pave de Paris” cobblestones used for paving many streets in the French capital. The stones are a symbol of the city’s three-century long history of revolutionary barricades, during which many of these “paves” were hurled by protesters.

“Online, one can see that many people have tried and zoomed-in on the locks for sale, perhaps to try and see if theirs are a part of the auction,” Collin du Bocage said. “We gave names to the lots according to those that were engraved on the locks. Although we tried to have high-quality definition pictures, it’s difficult to see.”

Not Melting

As for the rest of the locks that have been stored away, city officials say they may be too damaged to sell and too toxic to recycle.

“We will later see what we can do with the remaining locks,” Paris City Hall’s Recoules said. “The material some are made of make them impossible to melt while others contain harmful ingredients that prevent their re-use or recycling for now.”