Valentine’s Day is a time when couples celebrate their love and sometimes surprise their significant other by saying, “I love you” in the fairytale European towns. But there are two European cities that love breakups so much that they have museums dedicated to celebrating failed relationships. One retells the tragic love story of the medieval time, the other is a quirky take on the 21st century failed romance.
Banská Štiavnica in Central Slovakia is a medieval town of 10,000 residents that was once the ‘Silver Town’ of the Hungarian Empire. During its heyday, the volcanic soil brought enormous wealth to the mining town and was the former El Dorado of the Kingdom of Hungary. Today, this sleepy town has become famous for its ‘Love Bank’ where couples can go deposit small cherished tokens of their love in lovers’ vault made up of 100,000 tiny drawers. However, behind this Love Bank lies a tragic breakup story.
As I entered the museum, Katarína Javorská, the manager of the exhibition, shared the tragic tale of the lovers who made the house famous. “Love Bank is inspired by the true love story of Marína Pischlová and Andrej Sládkovic, who fell in love in with Banská Štiavnica when they were just 14. They were madly in love and wanted to spend their life together, but the class difference played a spoilsport and she was forcefully married to a wealthy gingerbread maker. Andrej was heartbroken and in her memory, wrote the world’s longest love poem (2,910 lines) — MARÍNA — in 1846 that immortalised his love. Today, it’s a national treasure and is registered as an official world record by the World Record Academy,” said Javorská while showing me around.
The idea of Love Bank is hinged on a fundraising project to save and restore the historic House of Marína, and promote Sládkovic’s MARÍNA around the globe as the world’s longest love poem. They have created love boxes in verse. Each love box bears a piece of the original manuscript of the poem.
Valentine’s Day is an important day for the museum and they have special plans. “On Valentine’s Day, we are starting a special thing — the world’s biggest love experiment for 100,000 people seeking love.
Anyone can store their token of love — a letter, punctuation mark or space from MARÍNA — in a love box, and each box bears a piece of Sládkovic’s original manuscript of the poem. Usually, a love box costs 50 euro for a year and 100 euro forever, but on February 14, it will be free of cost.” There are other interesting exhibits in the museum like ‘love-o-meter’ that claims to measure the strength of a couple’s love and talking portraits that bring alive the love story of Marína and Andrej.
Museum of Broken Relationships
After reliving the heartbreak moments of the 19th century in Slovakia, I travelled to Croatia in search of seeing the wreckage of lost love. Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb. In 2016, one of my friends had visited this museum and highly recommended it. Being a lover of unusual museums, it was high on my list and in August 2018, I finally made it to this museum.
In Zagreb, couples are encouraged to share their most intimate keepsakes along with a brief description of failed relationships. The museum began as a travelling exhibition of donated items. Since then, it has found a permanent home in the Croatian Capital. The museum is a brainchild of two Zagreb-based artists, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišic. After their breakup in 2003, the two joked about setting up a museum to house their love mementos and in 2006 with the help of their friends they actually made it happen.
Built on a crowd-sourcing idea, the museum displays everyday objects donated by ordinary people who have gone through a breakup or lost a loved one. These personal mementos take visitors on very personal and unique journeys — sometimes melancholic, sometimes touching and in some cases totally bizarre. The most mundane tokens of love like a watch, a pair of heels, a bottle opener, a teddy bear, a Zippo lighter unleashes a barrage of emotions associated with a breakup.
Next to each item, a short and pithy caption is written by their anonymous donors. The stories take you on a roller-coaster ride of human emotions. Some of them hit you like a bullet in the head, “‘Endured longer than the love’ and was made of a sturdier material than the relationship” read the caption that accompanied the prosthetic leg. Some captions gave away the bitterness associated with a breakup like a candy G-string was captioned, “He was as cheap and shabby as his presents.”
The museum can be easily explored in two hours and is divided into three main sections: Physical Museum, where objects like photographs, letters, messages, dresses, and many others are displayed with dates and locations of the relationship, and explanations by their anonymous donors. Virtual web museum, where you can have a virtual experience of images and documents. Confession section where visitors can record their confessions in a restricted and intimate space.
After going through hundreds of breakup stories, I couldn’t pull myself to explore any other area of Zagreb. And I submitted myself to the cosy atmosphere of the Brokenships café.
What I loved the most of these two European Museums is that instead of patronising or showing pity towards breakup survivors, they either offer a chance to people in love to strengthen their relationship by preserving the cherished mementos in a safe box or overcoming an emotional turmoil associated with a breakup through creativity.
Visiting these two museums taught me an important lesson — not everyone can be lucky in love but everyone can learn a lot from others’ relationships and breakups.
(Archana Singh is a brand strategist turned travel entrepreneur, an award-winning travel writer and a public speaker who likes to visit offbeat places in search of untold stories. She writes at www.travelseewrite.com)