I had heard of the Museum of Broken Relationships well before I actually visited the small institution in Zagreb, Croatia. I love quirky museums, like the ZAM in Munich (sadly, now closed), the French Fry Museum in Bruges and so on. But from my experience these museums are little more than a funny concept in order to get people in through the door. That’s all I really expected of the Museum of Broken Relationships in the Croatian capital, but within five minutes I knew just how wrong I was.
The concept for the museum started when two Zagreb based artists broke up and joked about starting a museum with objects from their love affair. A few years later this joke turned into an actual exhibition that traveled the world and quickly became immensely popular. Seizing on the success of the traveling version, the two purchased a small space in Zagreb’s historic Upper Town and in 2010 started Zagreb’s first privately owned museum, The Museum of Broken Relationships.
Using donated items from people around the world, the museum is a lot more than just a look at failed relationships. It captures the essence of the pain and loss that is inherent in every relationship, broken or not.
Along with each item is a story or anecdote provided by the individual, ranging from light hearted to deeply impactful. The museum covers all kinds of loss, from a bad breakup to missed opportunities and even death. The museum impacted me more than I would have ever have guessed; I teared up not for the last time within just a few minutes of entering the small space.
I cried because I could relate to one of the stories on a deeply personal level, as can most of us with a variety of the items on display at the museum. It’s so much more than a quirky space and a museum to tell friends about. It’s an opportunity to reflect on one’s life, our choices made and how they have impacted our futures. It’s about mistakes made and chances not taken, fear and loathing and loss in the extreme. It’s a melancholy experience; at least it was for me, but a satisfying one. The French have long written about the psychological benefits of moments of depression, as long as they’re short-lived, and at that moment I finally understood what they meant. It’s cathartic to reflect on these moments in our lives, on the people who have wandered in and out and what they have meant to us. It’s not healthy to bottle up these emotions and leave them for another day, because we tend to never revisit them. Instead they root and fester and impact us in ways we could never have imagined. So the museum for me was an opportunity to hash out these emotions, to look them in the eyes and tell them to finally go away.
And now I’m sad again, but not in a bad way, just one that is thoughtful. Here are a few examples of the exhibits and stories that capture the essence of this remarkable museum, one that everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
A key bottle opener
23 January 1998 – 30 June 1998
You talked to me of love, gave me small gifts every day; this is just one of them. The key to the heart. you turned my head; you just did not want to sleep with me. I realized how much you loved me only after you died of AIDS
It is said never to give anyone a pair of shoes as a Christmas present because then the shoes would make the person you gave them to walk away from you.
A few months after Christmas 2004, we call it quits.
Superstitious? I don’t believe in superstitions. I just walked away. Today, I’m still walking, but without the shoes.
A love letter on shattered glass
San Francisco, California USA
This is a love letter written to the passion of my life (so far) towards the end of our relationship, ten years ago. We were in different countries, and I’m better at writing than telephoning when it comes to these matters (plus the cost of international calls was at that time pretty steep). I sent an e-mail – a fairly new mode of communication in our relationship at the point – to ask what address to send it to. He broke up with me in a reply e-mail. I though that was lame. I deleted his e-mail eventually, but save the letter I had written. Since it was a sort of a relic (an actual, handwritten letter), I glued it to an old mirror I was getting rid of and shattered it. I thought it would be a cathartic ritual and might look cool too. With the help of an X-acto knife to tidy-up the rough edges, it is now “preserved” as an extinct specimen.
A couple of years
The relationship was broken due to his heroin addiction. A book dating from the late 19th century and a Tina Turner concert videotape are, I believe, remnants of a series of personal ) and who knows whose else’s) belongings that couldn’t or didn’t make it to be sold. They somehow found themselves in my apartment at the moment of our break-up. Since I was not sure if these objects belonged to him or not, I never had the courage to throw or give them away, although for me they had no practical or emotional value.
A shaving kit
She bought me this shaving kit for my birthday. I haven’t used it for quite some time but I kept it as a memory of her.
Our love was passionate and we tried to breakup a few times. She was 17 when we met; I was 27, married, with three children. We broke up after 10 years, but the love on my side is still as strong as it was back then. In the meantime, she got married and had one daughter. I hope she doesn’t love me anymore. I hope she doesn’t know she was the ONLY person I ever loved.
A stupid Frisbee
2 years and 2 months
Belgrade – Zagreb
Description: a stupid Frisbee, bought in a thrift store, was my ex-boyfriend’s brilliant idea – as a second anniversary gift. The moral was obviously that he should be smacked with it in the middle of his face the next time he gets such a fantastic idea. Since the relationship is now preceded by the word “ex,” the Frisbee remains in the Museum as a nice memory and expelled negative energy. Feel free to borrow it if you like.
PS Darling, should you ever get a ridiculous idea to walk into a cultural institution like a museum for the first time in your life, you will remember me. At least have a good launch )the only thing you could do on your own).