I've been to all sorts of museums around the world — museums dedicated to history, art, science, war… But no museum has been quite so unique as the one I visited in Zagreb, Croatia.
Stopping in Zagreb had never been in my original plan for my summer in Europe. But, as it turns out, there's no direct train service between Split, Croatia and Ljubljana, Slovenia — you have to change trains in Zagreb, and sometimes the layover can be long. In my case, I found myself with roughly 3 hours to kill in the Croatian capital on a Sunday afternoon.
Not content with simply sitting in the train station for 3 hours, I decided to go on a walk. I didn't expect anything to be open on a Sunday, but I figured walking (even in the rain) would at least help me pass the time. My feet took me past green parks and open squares; grand buildings and cobbled streets.
Zagreb was pretty. Prettier than I expected, in fact. And it was incredibly tourist-friendly, with signs at nearly every intersection pointing the way to things like theaters, parks, and museums.
The name of one museum in particular caught my eye again and again — the Museum of Broken Relationships.
I'd heard of this quirky museum before from some other bloggers who had visited during their adventures in Croatia. Dedicated to stories of failed relationships, it was a museum that definitely intrigued me. And, since I didn't have anything better to do, I decided to find it and see if perhaps it was open on a Sunday.
As it turns out, the Museum of Broken Relationships is open 7 days a week, nearly year-round. I happily paid the student rate of 20 KN (less than $4 USD), and spent the next hour or so getting glimpses into other peoples' lives.
The Museum of Broken Relationships began as a traveling exhibition of trinkets and memories tied to failed relationships in 2006, and toured around the world for the next 4 years. It was such a successful endeavor that the collection got a permanent spot in Zagreb in 2010, and now draws curious visitors from all over the world. In 2011, the museum won the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.
“Innovative” doesn't even begin to describe it, though. This museum is fantastic, and unlike any other one I have visited anywhere in the world.
The premise of the Museum of Broken Relationships is simple — people donate small items that represent some sort of failed personal relationship along with a brief description. Some pieces are sentimental; some are sad; some are funny. But all of them capture the human condition in one way or another.
This is the sort of museum that moves you — to tears, to laughter, and everything in between. It's not a sort of museum I can capture in words, however. So, instead of trying, I'll simply share with you some photos of my favorite items in the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Some of the items represent good memories of faded relationships. This one is still a bit sad, but nevertheless leaves you with a hopeful feeling.
“In 2008, I was 62, he was 34. I was not looking for him, he was not looking for me. The universe opened a door and we walked through it. He gave me a magical time. On January 10, 2009, I let him go. I let him go not because I wanted the magic to end, but because it was the best ending for a relationship that was destined to end the day it began. After I die, my family will be sorting through what's left behind of my life and they will not find Mr. 34. I've removed all the ‘evidence' and stored the memories in my heart, except for these four discs of music. Mr. 34 put this music together and gave it to me because he wanted to give me something important. He wanted to give me something he loved. He gave me music. Giving these discs to you honors him and it honors a broken heart. Thank you!”
Some items are more nostalgic in nature.
Air sickness bags
“A range of air sickness bags as a memento of a long-distance relationship. One Croatia Airlines, on Lufthansa, one Hapag Lloyd Express and three GermanWings. I think I still have those illustrated safety instructions as well, showing what to do when the airplane begins to fall apart. I have never found any instructions on what to do when a relationship begins to fall apart, but at least I've still got these bags.”
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 break up 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 French ID
“The only thing left of great love was citizenship.”
Some items represent bad break-ups, and come complete with bitter (and sometimes angry) descriptions.
A stupid Frisbee
“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 laugh (the only thing you could do on your own).
A silver watch
“The first time my ex told me he loved me, he took off my watch and pulled the pin out to mark the time he said it. After that I could never bring myself to push it back in or wear it again. But if I had known then that he was really only ever going to steal my time, I would have pushed it back in and walked away instead of waiting too many years for my life to start again.”
“So, after three years together, my husband bought fake, sculpted female breasts which were, of course, larger than mine and that was the time of our biggest relationship crisis… He made me wear them during sex because they turned him on. I was disappointed and because of those sculpted, fake breasts I left him for good.”
Some items are downright sad; more than a few descriptions nearly had me in tears.
A key bottle opener
“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.”
And then there were the funny items — definitely my favorite category, because sometimes all you can do is chuckle in the face of failed relationships.
A can of love incense
A wardrobe (small table top)
“Shortly after birth, in a misguided if well-intentional way, I was baptized a Christian by my parents. It took me 15 years to be able to break that forced relationship.”
“Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine.”
Newsweek magazine with President Obama on cover
“I really wanted it to work out.”
This is just a small sample of what lies inside this museum, of course. There are all sorts of items — from trinkets to clothes to books — all with their own unique stories. Part of what I love the most about how the items are displayed is the fact that the person who donated each one has written their own description. Some are short and blunt; others are long and full of beautiful prose.
It's hard not to love the Museum of Broken Relationships.
And the best part? Anyone can submit an item to the museum. The museum is always growing and changing, just like the relationships it features.
Is this a museum YOU would be interested in visiting?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she's actually traveled!