The Museum of Broken Relationships is not like any other museum. It does not attempt to teach you about the mysteries of the past or tell the epic story of history. It does not wow you with scientific facts. It does not portray art, or history, or geography, or science. There is no attempt to teach or to tell a solid grand narrative.
Instead, the museum is broken down into small, personal stories. All of them are theoretically insignificant to the wider picture of humanity. Yet each represents the simplest, most relatable and perhaps most important thing we know: human relationships.
Objects scatter a large room, each with a simple story next to them. They are real stories, from real people, who have donated an object that reminds them of a broken relationship. For a few minutes, you delve into the life of a stranger. You read their story and see the object. The anecdotes vary, and some are complicated, but the concept is very simple.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is not particularly fun or interactive, just powerful. Why is it a museum? Because like all museums, it inspires a very particular emotional reaction. It creates a sense of perspective that is so dominant while you are within its walls. Once you leave, the intensity dilutes back into everyday life. Yet the experience sticks with you.
They say that simple things are most effective. This museum really does focus on simplicity, and the result is certainly effective.
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Where is the Museum of Broken Relationships?
The Museum is in the heart of Zagreb, Croatia. It is located in the beautiful upper town. The area offers magnificent views of the capital and its surrounding mountains. The streets are small and cobbled. This is where buskers play on street corners, and impressive Croatian architecture dominates. The cathedral spire rises up to street level, and you can witness the passers-by of Zagreb from outlooks over the market. Follow cute narrow staircases upwards and you will find the Museum of Broken Relationships just off the square by St Marcos Church.
This is a beautiful area to relax after leaving the museum. Sit on one of the benches looking out over the city. People watch the tourists. Let all the stories you have just read settle in your mind.
Admission to the Museum of Broken Relationships is 30 Croatian Kuna – about $4.5.
Although Zagreb hosts the original museum, many others have developed across the world. You can now find them in many major cities, including London, Helsinki, and Los Angeles.
The Concept: the Museum of Broken Relationships
The whole concept bases itself on the power of material objects. They have a life of their own, holding a story that continues even after their owners have let it go. The Museum of Broken Relationships decided to channel that energy into one particular topic: broken relationships.
From personal experience, we can all relate to the power of a photograph or letter, indeed almost any object. We know how it can take us back to a particular time and inspire a powerful emotional reaction. The museum invites people to share those objects along with relevant dates, locations, and anecdotes. It also encourages visitors to share their own stories. The museum hosts an intimate space for guests to write down their own personal message.
How did the Museum of Broken Relationships Begin?
Two artists in Zagreb created the museum – Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić. Their own broken relationship actually inspired the idea. Setting up space to host the personal items associated with each other, they asked their friends to contribute. The collection developed from there.
The museum began as a traveling exhibition with the same concept it holds today. The wider intention was to engage with heartache in a creative way: by donating to the Museum of Broken Relationships. There was no attempt to help or to overcome pain, rather embrace it and share with others. Why? To give meaning to seemingly random suffering. People loved the thought and started donating exhibitions. The idea grew and grew, and the museum grew with it, now becoming an international collection.
How should I experience the Museum of Broken Relationships?
However, you like. There is no right way to experience the Museum of Broken Relationships. There are no arrows on the floors guiding your way, or anyone telling you which way to go. You can start from anywhere. You can stay for as long as you wish at a single exhibition. Or, jump between them quickly. With other people exploring the room with you, you will find that you go between the displays naturally. Each story is distinct from one another, although they all share the common theme of broken relationships.
As you pass between exhibitions, you feel the reaction growing inside you. The joint connection draws them all together, and you become immersed in human ideas of love and pain. Everyone is quiet; everyone is lost in the stories.
The objects are on display in individual glass cases. They lie in their own sphere of protection. This is the exact point: to secure memories and to preserve broken relationships. The founders celebrate the pain of past love, presenting it as something memorable. Even if eventually let go by their owners, the objects themselves hold an artistic essence – the material remembrance of emotion. In this case, heartache.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is tricky to understand unless you have actually been there and experienced it. Here are some short examples of the exhibitions:
“A box made of matches” from Maribor, Slovenia
A box he made after the wedding when he was in the army. After 18 years of marriage, he left me for another woman; we officially divorced after our 25th wedding anniversary. I still have the box, two sons, and many memories.
“A Cell Phone” from Zagreb, Croatia
It was 300 days too long. He gave me his cell phone, so I couldn’t call him anymore.
“A Wedding Dress” from Berlin, Germany
We married in Greece and in Japan when we were just over 20. Our goal was a happy home with many children. But Mother Nature did not deliver – and couldn’t children wait until the end of our studies? Slowly, the page turned. Impatience tipped the scales and brought a dark gray sky over our initial happiness.
Why you need to visit the Museum
Everyone has his or her own story. Nevertheless, to see so many individual ones lined up next to each other helps you comprehend the universality of broken relationships. Each anecdote provides a location so you can see how love and pain are a truly global phenomenon. However complex you feel your own story is, it is one of many. Ultimately, you realize that stories of heartbreak are a very simple and typical reaction to the living experience.
Visit the website for The Museum of Broken Relationships to find out how to donate your own story.