Who here has never had a broken heart?
If you’ve managed to make it through life unscathed by scars from a relationship gone wrong, you’re either living in a bubble or the luckiest person to ever walk the earth.
As humans, we have an uncanny ability to hurt one another. It doesn’t matter if we’re with someone 2 weeks or 20 years, when we fall hard it’s bound to leave a mark.
When I learned about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia I knew I had to see it for myself. I’m a sucker for anything weird, quirky, or unusual. Plus, even though I’m currently happy & angst-free, I’ve had my share of heartbreak.
I arrived in Zagreb at 5am on a Sunday morning, having taken the midnight bus from Split. Nothing in the city was stirring yet – my favorite time of day – so I took a tram out to Maksimir Park, ditched my backpack behind a tree, and enjoyed a glorious stroll around.
Then I headed to the city center, grabbed a coffee, climbed the streets to Upper Town & waited for the museum to open. It was worth the wait. You might think it would be depressing, but it was anything but.
That Museum of Broken Relationships exists to provide closure that many have never received. It allows anyone with a story to tell to contribute; turning sorrow into art. It acts as a catharsis for broken hearts to let go of something they may have held onto for far too long.
Individuals from around the world donate items that remind them of lost love along with the story that explains the item’s significance.
It seems simplistic when you walk in. With stark white walls and various objects in glass cases, it isn’t much to look at upon first glance. Then you start to read the stories.
From teenagers playing Super Nintendo to a spiraling drug addict to a wartime childhood romance to a mother’s suicide note left to her children, they range from comedic to heart-wrenching.
I spent almost two hours meandering through the plain rooms, absorbing these stories. They come from Serbia, the Philippians, Colorado, China, Croatia, Indiana, Germany, Australia…heartbreak is universal, my friends.
One person donated her wedding dress, red bustles & diamonds. Another, a rubber hamburger with a note saying only, “his dog left more traces behind than he did.”
A toaster labeled ‘The toaster of vindication’ might have been my favorite: “When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”
One story told of a 13 year old boy who met a girl while being held hostage during the siege of Sarajevo and lent her his favorite cassette tapes. They fell in love. He woke up one day and the girl’s family was gone. He never heard from her again. His letter says he “hopes the music reminded her of something nice and cute in that whole terrible situation.”
Another story tells of a couple with an open relationship that was unbeknownst to their friends and family. When they died in a sudden car accident, the third person in their marriage was left to silently grieve his best friend and the woman he loved.
Someone from Bloomington, Indiana donated a photograph and said “Florida Lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine.”
Yeah, I totally giggled out loud at the word penis. I have the sense of humor of a 12 year-old.
Tales of first loves, passionate affairs, long-lasting toxic relationships, prostitution, long-distance romances & star-crossed lovers mingle together. They all have one thing in common: the stories are told in a simple, straightforward manner.
Just the facts; no self-pity or melancholy. These are people who are ready to move on. The museum is a tangible display of healing & catharsis.
And it made me think.
Do any of us really have a handle on love? We feel it, we act it, we believe in it. But we have no mastery over it. We fall in love with the wrong people for the right reasons and the right people for the wrong reasons.
Sometimes we fall in love despite our best efforts not to, and sometimes we hold onto something that we stubbornly insist is love even when deep down we know it isn’t meant to be.
We make promises and even vows. We say forever even though we have no real concept of it (I mean, none of us are immortal to the best of my knowledge).
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” – Moulin Rouge/Nature Boy
The truth is that none of us can truly promise forever. (I know, all you married people are disagreeing with me right now, but hear me out.) We don’t know what tomorrow will hold. We don’t know what 20 years down the road is going to look like. Time is fleeting and unpredictable.
But that doesn’t make the love that we have in front of us any less precious.
Maybe it will last a month and sputter out like a flame that burned too bright too fast. Maybe it will sneak up slowly and catch a hold of you for years. Maybe it will last for the rest of your days on this earth. But you don’t know, unless you happen to be omniscient.
I’m one of the lucky ones right now. I have something beautiful and special and incredibly rare. But I can’t say it will last forever. Who knows if there will even be a forever? I am a bit of a risk taker.
The Museum of Broken Relationships made me cherish my own even more than I already did. I thought about all the times I’ve been treated like crap, or been in a toxic situation, or been taken advantage of. And I am sooo grateful to no longer be the kind of person who lets someone treat her like she’s a low priority.
I think the best thing we can do in life is to love as deeply and openly as we can when the opportunity presents itself. And, if it starts to fade, let it go as gently as possible.
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Buddha
If you’re ever in Zagreb, don’t miss this unique museum. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and best of all, it will make you remember all the loves of your life.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a bar?
Visit the Museum: Located in the beautiful baroque Kulmer palace in the Upper Town, Zagreb, Croatia
Admission cost: 25 kuna ($4.40)
Time required: 1 – 1.5 hours.
What you need to know: Climb up to the Upper Town (an easy walk from the main square in the city center, but you can take a tram if you’re feeling lazy) and wander around the stone streets. Follow the signs to the museum, and check out the Museum of Naïve Art while you’re in the area. Grab a coffee or something stronger from the bar after you’ve looked through the exhibits. Enjoy!