I didn’t meet that many people who had been to Zagreb, Croatia before I visited, but everyone who had been suggested I go to one place: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Well, with a name like that, of course I had to check it out.
The museum started as a traveling show, for which the founders asked people to donate something that symbolized their ended relationship as a means of coping with that end. The founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, see submitting to the museum almost as a ritual, like a marriage or funeral, that can formally recognize the end of something once vital to one’s life.
The rooms were labeled with themes, like “Rage and Anger,” although on the whole, I didn’t find the themes that useful a division. The stories are interesting enough on their own, and there’s too much overlap in the end of a relationship among rage and heartbreak and loss to divide it all up into rooms. Maybe the only theme I would’ve taken care to separate items into would be “Death,” because it’s one thing to read about how two lovers broke up, and quite another to read about the tragic circumstances of a loved one’s death. I’d separate those out, to reduce the emotional whiplash.
The museum displays about 15% of its collection; they accept any donation (except things that are racially, religiously, sexually, or ethnically offensive), and they only have so much room. I imagine the turnover is pretty good, so that you could visit every year and see almost a whole new exhibit every time. They don’t turn donations away, as they really seem to want to be a physical place for people to locate their pain from a broken relationship.
They also don’t change the written story submission at all; they encourage people to submit in their native language, and they employ translators to do their best in changing it into English (the language of the museum). They accept multiple objects, tiny objects, large objects. They let the donor decide what’s being displayed and how it’s being talked about, and it seems to me that in doing so, they’re radically addressing what it means to be a museum at all, and what it means to curate one.
It was as fascinating and emotional as I’d been promised it would be, so I’ll pass on what other travelers told me: if you’re going to Zagreb, go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.