The Museum of Broken Relationships

Snowy day in CO. Cozy, inside, plenty of time to write. Taking a trip back in time today…

The Museum of Broken Relationships is dedicated to objects. Objects as symbols of love lost, and hearts broken. 

What reminds you of your former lovers?

I visited this museum in Zagreb, Croatia, four years ago. It was on the list of tourist activities at the hostel, and at the moment, I wasn’t too far from the end of my own college relationship. And so, with such things on the mind, one dreary Zagreb December morning, my traveling companion and I set off to visit this strange little museum.

It turned out to be one of the more powerful experiences of my young life.

A Museum Dedicated to Breakups?

From the get-go, the Museum of Broken Relationships sounds like it could be a real downer. But I had found that Zagreb, and the Balkan Region in general, did not flinch in the face of tragedy. So, in a way, this museum seemed totally at home there.

(These days, there is a second branch of the museum in Los Angeles, California. There, in a town widely considered one of the most superficial in the USA, such sincerity and pain does seem out of place).

The Format

Credit: Museum of Broken Relationships website.

Zagreb

The Zagreb installation is a “micro-museum”: just a few small rooms, a cafe, and a giftshop. Quietly squeezed into a residential European street, existing without fanfare. But you wouldn’t want more. The experience is intense enough as it is.

The Collection 

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a collection of donated objects, each accompanied by a small story or explanation, written by the owner, of what the object meant to them (and their lover). See the image above to get an idea for what the museum is like.

This collection is sourced from people all across the world, and is too large to be displayed all at once. Objects are rotated in and out of the museums in Zagreb and LA, and periodically the expedition travels the world, inspiring more people and collecting more specimens of sentimentality.

Online

You can browse a small selection of objects and their stories on the Museum’s website. There is also an interactive world map where visitors can leave a pin or a story about their heartbreaks.

A Family Guy edition of the Uno card game, displayed alongside the love story of two soldiers. Photo by author of an exhibit in the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb.
This one made me cry. If you can’t read the text, click here to go to the high-resolution.

The Power of Symbols

Many of us hold onto totems of particularly intense memories and bonds. A shoebox under the bed. A small notebook, filled with love letters, innocently tucked into a bookcase. A postcard we mailed to ourselves from a beautiful vacation; a craft project done with one’s parents as a young child; the first rose your partner ever gave you, pressed in the pages of their favorite novel. 

Do you have such a collection? Where do you keep it? How often do you take it out and look at it?

Credit: Museum of Broken Relationships website

The Museum of Broken Relationships lets us see into these romantic shoeboxes of people from all across the world. Culture, nationality, religion, socio-economic status —no matter. We are all equalized in heartbreak. 

Just like our own collections, in the museum, some of the memories are lighthearted. Some, romantic. Others, almost too painful to consider. Many just are. Stories that we wish ended in any other way. But, just as in a great stage tragedy, we know from the beginning how the story is going to end. 

Reading the placards in the museum, looking at these three-dimensional objects, dirtied and caressed and cared for over the days, months, and even decades, I found no two stories the same. But many, many of them expressed the same feelings. Shock. Doubt. Hurt. Confusion. Melancholy. Acceptance.

It is sad. But so much more than that, it is a life-affirming experience to visit this museum and see how alike we all are. Even now, years later, it is lightening to imagine all of these people packing these possessions up in a box, soaked in emotions, and mailing it off forever. Although it seems counter-intuitive, the Museum of Broken Relationships is, at heart, about letting go.

Have a Contribution?

If you are interested in sharing a broken relationship story of your own, you may fill out this form on the Museum’s website, and mail your object to become part of the permanent collection in Zagreb. 

Want to Visit?

The museum in Zagreb, Croatia, is open from 10:00–21:00 local time, every day. All exhibits are presented in both English and the local language.

As of publication, the museum in Los Angeles is currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. You can check the status of the exhibition on the website. The gallery is located at 6751 Hollywood Blvd.

The Museum also hosts travelling exhibitions — up to date information may be found on their website.

With love and light,

Daniel.

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