The Museum of Broken Relationships

Museums are most often created to teach, to inspire, or to amuse. The subject is something distant–an ancient culture, an eccentric artist, an obscure local claim to fame. They can be fascinating, but are rarely relatable. Most of us don’t walk into the Louvre or the Tate with an extra pocket pack of Kleenex.

But in Croatia’s capital, The Museum of Broken Relationships may be the exception. Judging from the effusive and deeply personal comments in the thick stack of guest books, this museum makes its visitors emotional. Or at the very least, a little introspective.

Opened three years ago, the Museum houses donated artifacts from failed relationships. On one wall hangs an axe that was used to chop up an ex’s furniture (an ‘ex-axe’). On another, fuzzy pink handcuffs. A prosthetic leg is all that’s left from a relationship begun in a hospital, while a hastily scribbled love note tells a story not only of a young couple, but about the war that tore them apart. Ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, the stories that accompany the displays are often more interesting than the objects themselves. Next to a set of garter belts donated from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the description simply states: “I never put them on. Perhaps the relationship would have lasted longer if I had.”

The museum is itself an artifact of the failed relationship of its founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić. The simple universality of the subject and creativity of its display have garnered awards for museum innovation and made it one of the most popular attractions in Zagreb. Traveling exhibitions have passed through 17 countries, accumulating an eclectic mix of items for its permanent collection.

A visit is easily added to most itineraries. The museum is nestled among the more traditional tourist stops of St. Mark’s Square, the Museum of Naïve Art, and Lotrščak Tower in Zagreb’s Upper Town. Afterward, the museum café is the perfect place for a moment of reflection over a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate. And if the museum has made you thankful for your current unbroken relationship, colourfully dressed local women wait (perhaps not coincidentally) outside the entrance to sell you licitars–heart-shaped biscuits traditionally exchanged in Croatia on special occasions.

Put simply, it’s something different—a refreshing re-think of the museum experience. Love and loss, crowd-sourced and curated. Just don’t forget your Kleenex.

Lindsay Mackenzie is a freelance tour guide and photographer who has travelled to 50 countries all over the world. Every destination holds its surprises, however, no matter how much you’ve travelled, and she never expected to need so many tissues in a museum.

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