Affectionately known as Harties, Hartbeespoort is a quaint town situated in the North West province of South Africa that offers a variety of tourist destinations for Joburg city slickers to escape to over the weekend.
One of these destinations is Little Paris – a hidden gem on one of the main streets in Hartbeespoort that draws thousands of visitors annually for the simple task of housing a padlock devoted to a loved one.
The miniature Eiffel Tower, hidden at the end of a lake, is covered with "lover's locks" left behind by couples, families, and friends. It was initially the backdrop for the local film French Toast but was opened to the public in 2014 as a stopover for those who might not have the opportunity to visit the real deal in Paris.
Given the sentimentality of the thousands of locks left there, Little Paris found itself in hot water on Monday after online claims suggested that they were removing the locks and throwing them away.
Little Paris owner Paul Kruger has since denied the claims made online in a statement to News24.
Kruger confirms that they have moved some of the locks that were put on chains surrounding the miniature Eiffel Tower only because it is fast becoming a safety hazard for visitors.
"We've been operating with the locks over the last eight. And so it's gotten so heavy, especially at the tower," Kruger explains. "People are starting to hang on those locks to take photos, and if something breaks, the weight of the whole structure will fall onto our visitors."
As for where they have moved the locks, Kruger says, "We've actually just packed it on top of one another, on a heap in the middle of the tower."
The owner, who built the tower for the film, adds that they are in the process of designing and building a new structure that will grant visitors more space to put their locks and enable them to return to look for their locks whenever they choose.
Kruger emphasises that visitors are asked not to "hang on" or "climb" the tower to place their locks with signs around the area and hopes that the new structure will prevent them from wanting to put their locks in prohibited areas of the attraction.
Sharing more about what Little Paris means to its visitors, Kruger says, "There's more beautiful stories than ugly stories."
Elaborating, he adds that 'ugly stories' refer to the countless amount of people – which, fun fact, have only been women in the eight years they have been open to the public – who have returned after their relationships fail to ask if they can remove their locks.
"That is and will always be the only time we remove a lock."
Kruger also shares a 'beautiful story' emphasising why they will never throw away the locks they are entrusted with keeping.