The Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb

Stuart Forster bumps into his ex and visits the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb.

What would you do if you were in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and, by chance, found yourself booked into the same hotel as your ex? Would heading to the Museum of Broken Relationships be an option?

That’s precisely what I suggested when faced with just such a potentially prickly situation. To my surprise, the idea, floated over coffee, proved favourable and we ended up heading to the museum. Hardly a date but an arranged outing; the first together in over six years. (Not that I’ve been counting the days, I hasten to add…just in case you’re surreptitiously following this blog, my former dear.)

Objects displayed with a story

Like so many inspired creations, the idea behind the museum is simple. People were asked to donate an object relating to a failed relationship, tell its story and provide information as to the duration of their relationship. Items as diverse as garden gnomes, underwear and axes are exhibited anonymously, along with an explanatory story, in both English and Croatian, running to a few paragraphs in length.

Some of the tales are humorous, others seethe with underlying anger or hint at enduring emotional scars. There are those I could easily relate to, while some struck me as banal. But who are we to judge others? Some of the stories leave little doubt as to why the relationship terminated.

What item would you donate?

Visiting with the ex proved surprisingly therapeutic, at one point leading us to discuss the demise of our relationship; a robust debate that fellow museum visitors might have interpreted as some kind of live installation.

We talked at length about which objects we would donate to the museum and how we’d tell our story. That’s something, in fact, that people around the world are invited to do via the museum’s website.

Not all of the stories and artefacts on show stem from romantic relationships; those between estranged or abandoned family members and erstwhile friends are also represented. Some of the tales really do make you think and convey raw emotion.

It’s all over now

Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić came up with the concept of the Museum of Broken Relationships, which originated as a travelling exhibition. Over time the collection has grown and part of it remains on tour. It’s visited locations as diverse as Singapore, Taipei, San Francisco, Mexico City and London in recent years.

Make no mistake about it, this is a thought-provoking place. In 2011, at the European Museum of the Year awards ceremony in Bremerhaven, Germany, the Museum of Broken Relationships was presented with the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum.

So what, you may be wondering, did my ex think about visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships together? Is it something she’d recommend to other former couples?

“I suppose it shows that both people appreciate each other, for being an important person in their lives. Being able to laugh about the past is necessary to establish a creative relationship and also a sign that it’s matured through transformation,” was the answer.

On that note, I’m off to dig out an item that you may one day see in Zagreb.

Further information

Take a look at the Museum of Broken Relationships website for up-to-date information regarding opening times, admission fees and where the touring exhibition is on display at present. The museum, which houses a shop and café, is located at Ćirilometodska 2, within the Kulmer Palace, in Zagreb’s attractive Upper Town.

See the Zagreb Tourist Board website for more information about the city and view the Croatian National Tourist Board for details of attractions beyond the capital.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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A sign at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.
A sign at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

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