An Emotional, Thoughtful, Funny, Bitter, Poignant, Moving, Incredible Museum Experience

man's belt from museum of broken relationships zagreb croatia

Man’s belt

Aug 2003 – May 2006, San Francisco, California, USA

The man of my dreams didn’t even exist in my dreams until I met him. Our physical passion ruled the relationship; he was a unique and spectacular lover.

This item may not be very exciting, but the circumstances by which it came to my possession… oh my! He called me in the middle of the night because he had something he wanted me to see. I drove over an hour to pick him up and we went to watch a meteor shower… from a playground. The second I parked the car he looked me dead in the eye and said “Follow me. Leave your clothes.” We spilled out of the car into the warm summer night, articles of clothing flying everywhere. Kinkiness on a park bench underneath a blazing sky, there was more on fire than just those shooting stars.

I found the belt on the backseat of my car days later. I am donating it as a token of thanks for all the moments he made me feel alive. A week after that night I moved away and saw him little after that. I never got the chance to tell him that I love him, but at least everyone who reads this will know.

The Museum of Broken Relationships won the European Museum award in 2011 for most innovative new museum and it is easy to see why.

From poignant to humorous to heartbreaking to bitter, the full panoply of human emotions that love evokes are on display, in a format more expressive than almost anything I have ever felt – aside from going through it myself, of course.

It grew out of a travel exhibition and still tours around the world, currently in London until September 4th. The concept is simple: people donate some memento and its story to tell their personal tale of love, or love lost, or regret or joy from past relationships.

The museum is in the upper section of Zagreb, a few blocks away from the outdoor cafes where I was prone to enjoy a few beers and a cigar in the late afternoon. One day, I wandered up to take a look around and see if there were any good photography opportunities in the area. As I passed by the sign saying “Museum of Broken Relationships,” I walked in out of curiosity and bought my ticket on a lark, thinking it would likely be fodder for a funny post mocking it.

I walked out thinking it was the best museum I’d ever experienced.

Feel free to send them your mementos and story. I am certainly thinking about something in my storage shed that might be in the mail to them when I get home.

The words describing the items are those that sent them to the museum by their owners — there was no need for me to add anything else.
museum of broken relationships exhibit shaving kit

Shaving Kit

1987-1996, Zagreb

She bought me this shaving kit for my birthday. I haven’t used it for quite some time but I kept it as a memory of her.

Our love was passionate and we tried to break up a few times. She was 17 when we met; I was 27, married, with three children. We broke up after 10 years, but the love on my side is still as strong as it was back then. In the meantime she got married and had one daughter. I hope she doesn’t love me anymore. I hope she doesn’t know she was the ONLY person I ever loved.

 

museum of broken relationships exhibit stupid frisbee

A stupid Frisbee

2 years and 2 months, Begrade – Zagreb

Description: a stupid Frisbee, brought in a thrift store, was my ex-boyfriend’s brilliant idea – as a second anniversary gift. The moral was obviously that he should be smacked with it in the middle of his face the next time he gets such a fantastic idea. Since the relationship is now preceded by the word “ex,” the Frisbee remains in the Museum as a nice memory and expelled negative energy. Feel free to borrow it if you like.

PS Darling, should you ever get a ridiculous idea to walk into a cultural institution like a museum for the first time in your life, you will remember me. At least have a good laugh (the only thing you could do on your own).

love letter on shattered glass museum of broken relationships exhibit

A love letter on shattered glass

San Francisco, California, USA

This is a love letter written to the passion of my life (so far) towards the end of our relationship, ten years ago. We were in different countries, and I’m better at writing than telephoning when it comes to these matters (plus the cost of international calls was at that time pretty steep). I sent an e-mail – a fairly new mode of communication in our relationship at the point – to ask what address to send it to. He broke up with me in a reply e-mail. I thought that was lame. I deleted his e-mail eventually, but saved the letter I had written. Since it was sort of a relic (an actual, handwritten letter), I glued it to an old mirror I was getting rid of and shattered it. I thought it would be a cathartic ritual and might look cool too. With the help of an X-acto knife to tidy-up the rough edges, it is now “preserved” as an extinct specimen.

 

museum of broken relationships exhibit air sickness bagsAir sickness bags

2004 – 2006, Zagreb, Croatia

A range of air sickness bags as a memento of a long-distance relationship. One Croatia Airlines, one Lufthansa, one Hapag Lloyd Express and three GermanWings. I think I still have those illustrated safety instructions as well, showing what to do when the airplane begins to fall apart. I have never found any instructions on what to do when a relationship begins to fall apart, but at least I’ve still got these bags.
fake breasts shirt museum of broken relationships exhibit

Fake Breasts

3 years, Begrade, Serbia

So, after three years together, my husband bought fake sculpted female breasts which were, of course, larger than mine and that was the time of our biggest relationship crisis… He made me wear them during sex because they turned him on. I was disappointed and because of those sculpted, fake breasts I left him for good.
key bottle opener museum of broken relationships exhibit

A key bottle opener

23 January 1988 – 30 June 1988, Ljubljana, Slovenia

You talked to me of love, gave me small gifts every day; this is just one of them. They key to the heart. You turned my head; you just did not want to sleep with me. I realized how much you loved me only after you died of AIDS.

small suitcase museum of broken relationships exhibit

 

A Small Suitcase

October 10, 2004 – April 19, 2007

Two and a half years packed up in a small suitcase… I always knew a small suitcase would suffice.
stopped wrist watch museum of broken relationships exhibit

 

 

A silver watch

September, 2002 – May, 2005, Bloomington, Indiana

The first time my ex told me he loved me, he took off my watch and pulled the pin out to mark the time he said it. After that I could never bring myself to push it back in or wear it again. But had I known then that he was really only ever going to steal my time, I would have pushed it back in and walked away instead of waiting too many years for my life to start again.

 

small ceramic dog museum of broken relationships exhibit A small ceramic dog

Belgrade, Serbia

A great love from the Second Gymnasium in Belgrade, from the times of student protest in 1968. We lasted for ten years. I got married and we broke up. Then he got married. I travelled all over the world and renewed our relationship at the prom dinner a few months ago. This time the relationship didn’t last longer because he did not have the energy for double relationships. Our youth took us back powerfully and dynamically. Both of us realized we should have stayed together and got married because we were made for each other. But, again, we did not have the courage. I give you my puppy as a token of my long lost love and my wish that others will have more courage to follow their hearts, without being as weak as I was.

59 thoughts on “An Emotional, Thoughtful, Funny, Bitter, Poignant, Moving, Incredible Museum Experience

    1. Someone recently told me about Post Secret. Definitely a similar concept and very cool.

  1. Wow, this is my kind of museum. I really want to go now. This post had me welling up and smirking in equal measure – sometimes seeing things in print is so much more emotional than hearing them, which is probably why this museum is so successful.

    1. The range of emotions there is amazing, just like you describe.

  2. Wow, if this doesn’t come to NYC, I will need to go to Croatia. One of the most interesting museum concepts I’ve seen in quite some time.

    1. It was recently in London, so I’d have to imagine that NYC is on the list of places for it to visit soon. Though as much as I love Croatia, if you have the ability to go there, please do.

  3. Wow, this sounds amazing! Some of these examples are absolutely heartbreaking. I have a feeling I could spend hours (maybe even days!) in a place like this. What a cool idea. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the touring exhibit.

    1. It is a place that I’d go back to more than a few times. Small, but packs a punch, for sure.

  4. This is one of the most original ideas for a gallery, I commend you. The stories are both heartbreaking and very real. Sometimes it is easiest to make peace with your past, when you get rid of that one thing that reminds you the most of him/her, pick yourself up, and keep on sailing 🙂

    1. I was so surprised at how good it was. The idea was amazing and the execution is really fabulous. Glad you liked it, Sally.

  5. Wow. An interesting concept for a museum, one i never would have thought of, and one which turned out to be soooo amazing! Very cool. Thanks for exposing it, Michael! cheers, Lash

  6. Purely fascinating. I love such quirky, alternative options in my travels. Not likely I’ll get to Croatia anytime soon (I’ll be tucked into g-forsaken rice paddy on the other side of the globe for a goodly spell) but if/when I do – this museum will be tops on my list. Thanks for a most interesting post!

    1. Where are you these days, Dyanne? The Ultimate Train Challenge is set to dump us off on the other side of the globe in a few weeks.

      1. Where am I? Uh, knee-deep in the ughy chores of shutting down my U.S. of A. popsicle-stand, and heading – yes, to that same corner of the globe (Saigon) as you. But alas, too bad I’ll miss you by a month. I fly into Hanoi on Oct 30th, and… coincidentally, I likewise plan to be on a 30 hr. train south around the 7th. Any chance you’ll still be hanging out in Vietnam by then?

  7. We need a museum like this here in the USA. How cathartic it would be to put closure to a relationship, whether it was good or bad. The essential ingredient in this is LOVE. Being able to love someone 100% with no hold-backs is amazing. To quote that old saying “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Really.

    1. I hope that it gets to the US soon, in a traveling capacity. Would be a wonderful touring exhibit to see, close to home.

    1. I am sure they would let you video tape in there, so a possible idea for a part of a Croatia video show for you soon.

  8. That is the coolest thing I have seen in a good long while. I would love to go to this museum if I ever make it back to Zagreb. Really cool and thanks for sharing these snippets of stories 🙂

    1. From one of my favorite countries. Hopefully I can talk the Croatian Tourism Board into a little 2012 with some of us to get back there.

    2. From one of my favorite countries. Hopefully I can talk the Croatian Tourism Board into a little 2012 with some of us to get back there.

  9. This is a freaking fantastic exhibit. Holy crap. I went through my fair share of emotions just reading the captions.

  10. Everything in this museum look and feels so intense. I guess is one of the few museums where you want to read all the labels describing the pieces. I guess it is so good because it tells real stories of real people. Great!!

    1. The labels and captions basically make the whole museum. Reading what the people have to say, totally in their own words, is amazing and inspiring.

  11. I’m usually only really into natural history & science based museums, but quirky social ones are up on the list too. Look forwards to making my way to it (or the travelling exhibits). Great post Michael!

    1. Thanks Dustin. I am not much of a museum guy myself, but this is one of the few exceptions in my eyes.

  12. I’m usually a big cry baby so I imagine myself blubbering all over the place if I visited this museum. Such an awesome idea for a museum, so glad you found it so you could share it with us. The boob bust cracked me up.

    1. I saw the boob bust. Then the story. And all I could think to myself was… I wish I had actual video of him bringing that home and asking her to wear it.

    1. I seriously thought the boobs were a joke for a few seconds. How does someone come home and ask that?

      If you are going to go there… buy her some “real” fake boobs.

  13. Amazing piece. Amazing museum! Never heard of it and now I’m searching all over the internet for it. I especially like the key bottle opener. What incredible stories…

    1. Hop a cheap flight over to Croatia. You will love the place, if you haven’t been yet.

  14. What a weird ‘n’ wonderful museum! I’ve always thought museums to do with human issues are far more fascinating than ones with old relics in them…

    1. Well this one hits the basic emotion issue that all of us face, love and loss, better than most I have ever seen. Hope you liked and thanks for following along.

  15. Oh frack Michael,

    You described this to me in Lisbon, but actually reading it along with the images has hit me like a concrete block.

    Especially the last woman. “My wish that others will have more courage to follow their hearts, without being as weak as I was.”

    You’ve got me crying in a cafe in Verona, Italy, dude. Now you really have to make it up to me. I want a 24/7 masseuse in Vietnam.

    1. Thanks, Candice. Glad you liked it. Have you had a chance to hit Croatia yet?

  16. Crap. This is awesome. The most moving museum I’ve been to is the Terror House in Budapest. Really moving displays, etc.
    But this one touches us all. We’ve all been there. Love that watch one. Wow. Time to get back to CR!

  17. Wow – can’t believe they have a museum like this but how amazing! And heart breaking… and wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It is such a great place, Melissa. I hope you get to see it sometime.

  18. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the touring exhibit. Thanks Dustin. Look forwards to making my way to it (or the travelling exhibits). Purely fascinating.

  19. Seriously, one of my favorite blog posts of all time. Thanks for reposting this via twitter — I read it when it was first posted, but now I’ve been reminded how much I wanted to visit this museum! Hopefully going to Croatia in July so definitely putting this on the “must see” list.

  20. I want to jump on a plane and go to this museum right now. I am in experiencing a turning point in a relationship that I am really invested in, but my partner isn’t so much. It is a very vulnerable place, but I am enjoying the rush nonetheless. I think broken relationships is a common human experience and all the flooding of emotions we all experience really links us together.

    1. A friend of mine just went last week and loved it also. Its a great place.

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