The Museum of Broken Relationships

I’m sitting at a café in Zagreb, with a metallic beer and a stomach full of quite possibly raw chicken, a product of a complete lack of effort in attempting to find good cheap food. I feel as though I’ve been kicked in the solar plexus by Eric Cantona, yet I am in extraordinarily good spirits.

The cause is the museum I’ve just come from. It’s called the Museum of Broken Relationships, and I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. For starters, it’s the only Museum I’ve ever been to at which read every single one of the exhibit descriptions. And it’s not so much of a museum, more a permanent exhibit. I know that sounds foolish, but when you’re there, you realise it could really pass off as the sort of exhibition a larger museum would have in their foyer. Regardless, it seems to truly be one of a kind.

I first noticed the museum yesterday, strolling through Zagreb’s Upper Town. I saw a series of signs, one pointing to the Museum of Naïve Art. I thought they’d misspelled Native, and decided to take a picture. Upon cropping the picture later on, I realised that the Museum signposted below it was the Museum of Broken Relationships. I’d had an intriguing conversation with a boisterous and somewhat eccentric Croatian the night before on Balkan relations, and assumed it had something to do with the various Bosnian conflicts. I guessed that a visit might shed some light on the matter.

When I found it, it was a small building with a very modern café out the front. I walked into the museum, unaware I had passed the point at which I had to pay, and read the sign below….


Curiosity piqued. I’ve recently been through a (admittedly pretty smooth and drama-free) break-up myself, so naturally I was keen to have a look. I’d already pegged the next day as my museum day, so I decided to come back then.

My god. I’m not an overly emotional individual, in fact two past girlfriends have called me (in some form) ‘emotionally detached’, but this was something else. As you may be able to read above, the Museum encourages therapeutic release by contributing to the displays, usually with an item, and a short story. And what stories.

Some people are looking back with fondness at past experiences. Some people are devastated, from kids who have never seen their father again to widows who spent years coping with grief. Others feel straight-up burnt, and are savage about it.


The Ex-Axe

One exhibition had an axe embedded in a wall. Jack Nicholson’s voiced started screaming dementedly in my head and I made a beeline for it. It turns out that a girl 1 had left on a trip to the US for three weeks, and when she returned girl 2, who she’d been with, had fallen in love with girl 3, who she’d known for four days. 1 kicked 2 out the next day, and bought an axe. The now ex-girlfriend went on holiday with her new friend. The embittered woman decided to destroy one piece of her former lover’s furniture every day of the holiday. When she arrived back, the kindling was stacked neatly outside the front door.

There are a few funny stories, be it the way they are told, or the tales themselves. One of the displays simply had a Linksys router, with the words “We tried. Not compatible.” emblazoned above it. My favourite exhibition was a caterpillar that two long-distance lovers bought. Every time they saw each other they would tear a leg off. Unfortunately for them, yet fortunately for the caterpillar, they didn’t quite make it. The caterpillar still has about half his legs.

Yet there are some devastating stories in there. The stories of children about mothers that left the house and never saw their children again are flattening. Some of the trauma these people went through after having a person just walk out of their life can be hard to comprehend.

Yet there’s something in there that everyone can relate to. As a guy who moves around a lot, there were a few displays on relationships, doomed to fail as people move cities or countries, that I connected with. The displays are so varied, that if you walk away not having been able to relate to a single piece of text, you’re either a rock or Lord Voldemort.

But I get the feeling that the thing about this place is, your experience here is defined by your own experiences with love in the past. A girl reading the same passage as I was snorted at the passage “It was love at first sight…”. I was unmoved, but not inclined to ridicule the writer. Other times I was almost horrified at people’s anger, betrayal, or inability to forget. I can imagine that others would consider some of these emotions to be ‘undying love’ or ‘romantic’.

It’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in Zagreb. Or Brussels, where the travelling exhibition currently is. Have a beer after. Feels good.

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