Most of us can relate to relationships gone bad as an innocent child, during our tumultuous teens, or as adults. Perhaps a close loss, an imploded marriage or first love giving way to eventual maturity; whatever the situation, the loss, grief and emotional collapse are real.
Societies worldwide recognize and publicly celebrate births, marriages, graduations, celebrations of life (death) as per cultural traditions.
Have you ever heard of any formal recognition of failed relationships? Regardless of the circumstances or ethnicity, all produced some type of emotional effect.
Enter the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.
Conceptualized in Croatia in 2006, “the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum’s collection,” explains the Museum literature.
It’s unique insofar as it was conceived around the concept of failed relationships. It’s intriguing given the personal stories shared, accompanied by a related memento. It’s not your ordinary museum; it’s sad and sometimes funny with healthy doses of irony and obvious bitterness.
According to its brochure explaining the concept, “whatever the motivation for donating personal belongs – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their emotional legacy as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony. The ever-evolving, community-built collection created challenges our ideas about heritage.”
Here are stories of wartime love, coming of age, rejection, loss of life, family separation, failed marriages, betrayal and much more. Mostly anonymous contributors hail from Brazil, the UK and US, Armenia, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia, with contributors constantly added.
“I am a 70-year-old woman from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I visited Zagreb back in 1967 and the city is very close to my heart… This is a postcard that was inserted through the slit of my door a long time ago by our neighbors’ son. He had been in love with me for three years.
“Following the old Armenia tradition, his parents came to our home to ask for my hand. My parents refused, saying that their son did not deserve me. They left angry and very disappointed.
“The same evening their son drove his car off a cliff.”
An unadorned brown wood box containing various personal items is displayed under the heading Granny’s Box of Memories with the one-line sentence: “A memento of my grandmother’s great love, Karlo, who drowned in a river in 1920”.
Someone from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina provided a stuffed toy caterpillar along with this story:
“I had this big, truly big love, a long-distance relationship, Sarajevo to Zagreb. It lasted for 20 months. Of course, we dreamt of a life together and with that in mind, I bought this huge caterpillar. Every time we would see each other we would tear off one leg. When we ran out of legs to tear, that would be the time to start a life together. But, naturally, as is often the case with great loves, the relationship broke and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”
“Escaping from Sarajevo under fire in a big convoy, we were held hostage for three days when leaving the city. A few days before, I turned 13.
“In a car next to ours there was Elma, with her mother and some other people… I only remember she was blonde and incredibly cute. I fell in love, with childlike honesty, and confessed it to her with the same honesty in this letter. I had given her some tapes since she forgot to bring her own music along before leaving in a hurry.
“Just as I didn’t get the time to give her the letter, because after three days they suddenly freed us and we lost sight of Elma’s car, she never got to return my tapes. Naturally, I never saw her again, and now I just hope that the music reminded her of something nice and cute in that whole terrible situation.”
An anonymous contributor from the UK donated a ceramic rolling pin with the caption From Birth to Six years (1981). This is what he or she wrote:
“Maternal separation is a broken relationship and is different to some of the current exhibits in terms of partner relationships ending. However, the feelings of loss, separation, grief, rejection and hurt are similar in many aspects.
“All the physical memories of my mother were burnt, discarded and buried. The most difficult part was that no one ever talked about her so I had nothing.
“I had a ceramic rolling pin which surprisingly missed the anger and emotional cleansing at that time. I kept it and it was wrapped carefully in each house move I had over the years.
“This was mine to hold on to, to remember the happy moments of being in the kitchen with mum as a small child making Gingerbread Men cookies. A powerful memory evoking the actual feelings and memories of the day, the smells in the kitchen, the smell of my mum, being included, and feeling happy.”
“In October 2010, I was reunited with my mum. I now feel able to move forward in my life and donating the rolling pin means I do not have to cling to it any more. Let the good times roll.”
Finally, a brief but concise tale next to a book entitled Tarantula, Bob Dylan, states:
“Given to me by an American “boyfriend” when I was 17 and inscribed “for _________ who charmed the savage wolf.” I didn’t know that he would hound my parents for years, and would eventually have a sex change and steal their name for his new persona.”
An information board posted near the front of the museum states, “although colored by personal experience, local culture and history, the exhibits presented here form universal pattern that bring comfort to all those who uncover them. Hopefully they can inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random suffering.”
The permanent exhibition of the Museum of Broken Relationships is the winner of the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe. The traveling exhibition has since toured internationally.