Civil Society Museums

Love and torture in Zagreb

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships- note/legend (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships- note/legend (source: Flickr)

If you find yourself in Zagreb and you have a bit of time to spare, there are two places worth visiting guaranteed to fill you with a rush of emotions. Both of these places are located in the centre of town, very close to each other.

The first is the Museum of Broken Relationships in the upper town of Zagreb. Located in a quieter part of town, away from the biggest tourist crowds, this small museum still attracts big attention.

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships - interior (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships – interior (source: Flickr)

This private museum was founded in 2010 by former couple Dražen Grubišić and Olinka Vištica. After ending their 4 year relationship in 2006, they realised that they didn’t know what to do with the physical remnants thereof. They eventually decided to put all their items together to form a “collection”.

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships - interior (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships – interior (source: Flickr)

With time, their friends also donated some of their own items left over from relationships past, and their collection grew. Feeling that they had enough items to create an exhibition, they started traveling and exhibiting their collection worldwide, in Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Macedonia, Philippines, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South African Republic, Turkey, the UK and the USA.

At each stop during their travels, people donated objects from their own failed relationships – wedding dresses, cell phones, bicycles and other miscellaneous objects – and so the collection grew even bigger. Often completely random and insignificant from an outsider’s perspective, the items’ significance is explained with a letter or a note from the donor (fig 4). There are now more than a thousand items in the collection. After four years on the road, Grubišić and Vištica decided to open a museum in Zagreb in 2010 and (quite appropriately) named it the Museum of Broken Relationships(fig 5).

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships - A honey bunny (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships – A honey bunny (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships, handcuffs (source: Flickr)

Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships, handcuffs (source: Flickr)

One thing that stands out about the collection is that similarities can be found in the way that people react to love and breakups all around the world. As far as experiences go, it is very deep and personal, and the personal notes that accompany each object do a good job of showing this. The main differences are the reasons for the breakups – which is mostly about leaving someone because the love has faded, but sometimes it is also due to other reasons such as, in the most extreme cases, natural disasters like floods and earthquakes.

It is not rare for people to be moved by what they see in the museum. After the visit, you can leave a note or write about your experience in the visitor’s book.

This museum is very popular among tourists. In first five years of its existence, the museum was visited by more than 30 000 people, and the number of visitors grows annually. People seem thrilled by the concept. It’s not about sorrow or depression, but rather about the cathartic experience, teaching us that from all the harsh emotions that one might have to endure following a break-up, something positive can be gained. In 2011, this unique site received the Kenneth Hudson award for Europe’s Most Innovative Museum.

A few blocks away from the Museum of Broken Relationships is another small museum – the Museum of Torture (aka the Tortureum). It is located in the lower town, just a street away from the central square.

One of the most intriguing pieces of apparatus is the replica of the guillotine. It is named after the French physician and member of parliament, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

One of the most intriguing pieces of apparatus is the replica of the guillotine. It is named after the French physician and member of parliament, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

Here, replicas of machines and objects used for torturing, humiliating or executing people throughout the centuries are displayed in a few small dark rooms, complete with a soundtrack meant to leave a lasting impression of terror on the visitors.

Multimedia guides are dispersed throughout the museum, or otherwise the exhibition can be followed by means of a tablet giving a description of every machine. Objects are exhibited randomly depending on the size and available space of every room. A few of the rooms are decorated as a prison or a room meant for torture.

Most of the exhibited machines and devices were used to torture people during the Middle Ages up and ‘till the 18 century. You can find small cages, Spanish boots, a guillotine from the time of the French Revolution and other machines used for punishing people for various crimes.

For thievery and lawbreaking, convicts were publicly disgraced. They were put on pillars, stocks or cages and they were punished in front of crowds. A few replicas of these kinds of devices can be found in the museum.

One of the most intriguing pieces of apparatus is the replica of the guillotine. It is named after the French physician and member of parliament, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, although he did not actually design it – he was just an advocate for a more humane execution.

The Iron Maiden, another apparatus on exhibit, is also famous as a torturing device. The victim was put in a casket full of big nails that slowly impaled them inside as it closed.

Other items in the museum are mostly dedicated to torturing men and women for witchcraft, such as the Spanish boot, chains, and racks used  to stretch the victims  In order to confess either collaboration with the devil or to being a witch, people were brutally tortured, usually stretched until they confessed to their crimes –  even if they were not guilty. The prosecution of witches started after the book Malleus Maleficarum was published in the 14th century, and judgement often took place in public. The worst was during 17th century, when judgement for these kinds of crimes got out of control. After an intervention by the government and the proclamation of dozens of laws, the last “witches” of Croatia were burned at the stake in the 18 century.

After visiting these two places, you might feel more in-tune with your inner self. I recently heard that there are three abstract things that make the biggest impacts on our lives: time, death and love. If you have time, and you find yourself in Zagreb, you can maybe learn something about the emotions connected to death and love – in some very peculiar ways.

From Zagreb with love – or torture (depending on the mood).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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