Zagreb, Croatia: The Museum of Broken Relationships - how this quirky museum captured my heart

Who knew Croatians had such a sense of humour? More importantly, who knew they knew so much about my own life they needed to build a museum to it, keep it a secret from me, and then let me discover it by serendipity? Of all the gin joints, it's in Zagreb where I was to discover my spiritual home.

This was pretty much my initial take on the Museum of Broken Relationships. The rich comic potential of such a destination instantly amused and intrigued, and with limited time in Croatia's capital, it jumped to the top of the must-see list.

Just like my Traveller colleague Ben Groundwater, I, too, am a fan of quirky museums. Frankly, you haven't lived until you've clapped eyes on an almost-life size Princess Diana, rendered entirely in solidified sugar at Szentendre's Marzipan Museum. I've looked at everything from bizarre sex contraptions at the Erotic Museum on La Rambla in Barcelona to a collection of old telephones in the dust and heat behind the Swan Reach museum in South Australia and even written about Kuching's ker-razy Cat Museum.


#museumofbrokenrelationships #richtignice #zagreb #Živjeli #🍻

A photo posted by @julptz on


A secret message. #nothingisforever #museumofbrokenrelationships #sunday #trip #zagreb #vsco #vscocam

A photo posted by Maja Dretnik (@maychy) on

I agree there is entertainment value in the bizarre and if there is a curated collection of kitsch on offer, you can count me in. So it was with great interest I read his piece on weird museums last week but when I saw he had included The Museum of Broken Relationships – and, much to my horror, the headline was "world's worst" museums – I felt I must leap to its defence.

As concepts for museums go, celebrating broken relationships is indeed weird on the surface – but the result was wonderful. This museum has no place on a world's worst list, I tells ya! Yes, we giggled and snickered in anticipation and upon arrival, I flung myself at the entrance, prone on the footpath like a wearied pilgrim, to amuse not only my travelling companion in the moment but also to confuse a few perturbed passers-by.

Inside, once I'd brushed the street grit off my cheek, the gift shop is a knowing wink to how many might first interpret such an exhibition. There's plenty of humour on display, in items for sale such as pencils that say "in case of anger, break here" and blocks of chocolate that read "forget love, I'd rather fall in chocolate" and "hope your ass gets bigger".

The collection itself has several laugh out loud exhibits, too. Like the American who has contributed a photo of a timber jetty with an arrow pointing at a seat, with the caption reading "Florida Lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine". Or another American who contributed the "Toaster of Vindication", a relic from a four-year relationship, with the accompanying explanation "when I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"


The Museum of Broken Relationships first began as a travelling exhibition in 2006, started by art producer and filmmaker Olinka Vistica and visual artist Drazen Grubisic, after their own relationship had failed as they went "in search of a remedy for the feeling of loss that had, at the time of our break up, represented the only thing left for us to share", says Vistica in the program notes.

A little wind-up toy they had once shared, called Honey-Bunny, was a "trivial object that surprisingly glued the shards of memory together" and was the first piece in the exhibition that has now since travelled to 18 countries, and amassed more than 1000 items in the full collection, before finding its permanent home in Zagreb. Pieces are donated anonymously with an insight into the significance of the item. "Our societies oblige us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect," explains a passage on the wall.

The result is that the vignettes captured, expressed through random quotidian items loaded with personal meaning and memory, reveal the universality of the experience of love and loss. Given this, it is impossible not to be deeply engaged and at times, moved – not just to laugh, but almost to tears at other points. The stories come from all corners of the globe, and not just geographically. Straight, gay and BDSM relationships are covered; age gaps and affairs; romantic, familial and business relationships, the whole gamut, and likewise the emotions they trigger.

While we had visited intending it to be a bit of a lark, we left having had a surprisingly life-affirming experience. The Museum of Broken Relationships is an evocative testament to the fullness of life and is actually one of the most beautifully human places on Earth.

See also: Nine of the world's worst museums
See also: How to beat the queues at the world's busiest attractions