I had heard a lot about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb and that was basically my only must-do when visiting this quaint Croatian capital. It didn’t disappoint. I was enraptured with every piece and walked away with my heart fuller, which is all you hope for when visiting a cultural showpiece.
The museum’s theme was that of having lost something precious to you. When I think of my own experiences of bereavement and how devastating it was, and when I think of how this is the experience of basically the entire global population – if we live long enough we will have experienced loss – it surprises me how being broken is one of the common threads we share as human beings yet the least visible. When we consider the magnitude of our own personal losses and how bone crushing it can be, and when we consider of all those relatives, friends, refugees who have all lost someone or a whole family or an entire village and they are still standing strong – it leaves me both stupefied by the inherent fortitude that lies in the human DNA and yearning to uncover their veils of sorrow to empathise, commiserate and also derive strength from another’s journey of recovery. This was part of why I gravitated towards the Museum in the first day we had in Zagreb – to heal.
Upon entering the hall, I read the exhibition’s introduction and immediately felt an affinity with the curation I would find.
Although being steeped with a spiritual path never really exposed me to the feeling that life and loss could ever only be just ‘random suffering’ I like how they eloquently articulated the human being’s journey of ‘personal search for deeper insights’ which quite often is the reason we travel or enter a museum.
We spent an hour or two reviewing the short testimonies of those who had contributed to this museum and the tangible real life momento they accompanied with their testimony (magazines their loved ones used to read, a last Post It note, a gift given by a lover, wedding clothes of a divorcee), and I felt connected to a shared suffering with strangers I never met and will never know.
The narrative tends to be simple, to the point, sometimes humorous. Some describe of having lost a life changing relationship that would forever scar them. Some describe of being relieved to have left a lover. There was a very touching testimony from a mother who gave the museum a door of her house with messages written by her deceased son’s friends to him.
Another describes of a love letter he wrote to a girl when he was nine years old before the Yugoslavian conflict took over. Collectively, the museum’s curation was raw, private, poignant, melancholic and beautiful all at once. Somehow, vulnerability is often the most persuasive bond of intimacy.
As we go deeper into the various halls, there was a section dedicated to what refugees have lost and the one thing they have kept since leaving their country of origin. This was a campaign that started more than six years ago, I remembered visiting an exhbition in Ankara with the same display.
When we went to the gift shop, we saw these kitsch erasers selling a metaphorical chance to erase bad memories. It was a humorous accessory, and a cool souvenir to remember the museum by. Yet in reality, I think most know that despite how suffocating our tragedies feel at the time it is happening, we never truly want it to be erased from us. It is through loss that we learn to re-live and re-love deeply, and for those who have lost loved ones, it is through their memories that we continue living close to their essence.
As we walked away from the museum and started another exploration of the Old Town, a kind of subtle epiphany began to lodge itself within. Many have written posts about the way in which the Museum touched them, and the beauty it offered their perspective. The common theme of appreciation was how it tries to honour the reality of pain, and not suppress it, which is particularly refreshing in these days of social media perfection. As for me, I guess I’m not alone to say that the main lesson a museum of loss taught me was to remain fully in gratitude, always. It is the only way to live that will bring us the full depth of inner peace.