As much as I would like to claim that I’m a sophisticated person who loves museums, I’m not.
I fell asleep while walking along the rows of painting at the world-renowned Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I pretended to understand modern art exhibitions at ARoS and Tate Modern but could not be bothered to read the descriptions. The Natural History Museum in New York was pretty cool, but let’s be honest here, I was just there for the dinosaurs.
Anyway the point is, I’m not a museum person. As much as I would like to be engrossed in the development of human civilisation, it wouldn’t take me long before I started yawning and wondering how the hot chocolate at the museum cafe would taste like.
I am a horrible product of our ancestors. I know.
But even in the most hopeless of cases, there is always an exception. In my case, The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb was my exception. Not only did I successfully stay awake throughout, the exhibitions managed to captivate me, so much so that I spent two hours in what was supposed to be a 45-minute visit.
When I first saw the sign of the museum while walking along the hill leading to St Mark’s Church, I thought it was a joke or something that was lost in translation from Croatian to English. Perhaps, the name of the museum didn’t mean what I thought it meant – maybe it was something to do with how the relationships between Croatia and some other countries were broken during wartime.
But no, upon entering the museum, it was precisely about what I thought it wasn’t: it was a museum about people who have broken up with their boyfriends/girlfriends.
Or to be precise, it was a repository of artifacts donated by people who have gone through heartbreaking broken relationships (who hasn’t?) be it with their ex-partner, family members or friends.
The concept of the museum started out in Zagreb, where it is permanently located (along with another one in LA), but they tour to display heartbreaking stories from around the world. The museum will be coming to Copenhagen (Denmark), Pittsburgh (USA), Heidelberg (Germany) and Jeju Island (South Korea).
At the time when I visited Zagreb, I was freshly out of a heartbreak. The concept of the museum naturally piqued my interest, but I was worried whether it would make me feel too sentimental and start to wallow in my sadness again.
Fortunately, the curiosity got the better of me (as usual) and I decided to take the risk. Taking a deep breath, my friends and I paid the HRK 20 (USD 3) entrance fee for students and walked into the exhibition area.
I didn’t really know what to expect and what I saw was rather bizarre in the beginning.
The display varied from this caterpillar stuffed toy…
To everything else you can think of.
Each one of these ‘artifacts’ came with a little story on the significance of these seemingly ordinary items to the donors. I was so engrossed in the stories that I forgot to take pictures of most of what I saw. Some of them were utterly heartbreaking while some were bittersweet, but all of them invoked a sense of deeply personal loss.
Needless to say, I read all of them to the last word, which explained why by the time I exited the museum, my friends were all waiting impatiently, black-faced and hungry. I mumbled an apology while my mind was still preoccupied by everything that I had just seen.
I still can’t quite put into words how I felt. I found the museum oddly calming and therapeutic, but at the same time it left me pensive. There was some comfort in knowing that so many people have gone through heartbreaks and they were brave enough to open up about it. I wondered though if they had truly got over those. Perhaps telling their stories and donating the stuff were a way for them to let things go literally, to detach themselves from someone who used to mean so much to them, yet not banishing them from the earth completely.
Perhaps, to them and the visitors of the museum, they serve as a lesson and a reminder that it is possible to move on, but that doesn’t mean you forget how someone has changed your life so much, in the best and worst way possible.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is located at Ćirilometodska 2, 10000, Zagreb.