Detritus of Love Gone Bad: Museum of Broken Relationships Hits Berlin

What do an ax, fuzzy pink handcuffs, a teddy bear and a wedding dress have in common? They are all part of a traveling exhibition now in Berlin devoted to relationships that have hit the skids.

On the dusty top floor of a former squat in East Berlin the collection is growing with each passing week. At first glance it looks as if someone had assembled the remnants of a flea market. A bicycle hangs from the wall, while rings, teddy bears, socks, fluffy pink handcuffs and various ornaments are on display.

But the junk, unwanted though it may be, is far from being meaningless detritus. Each of the objects, many of them rather humdrum, were once full of meaning for someone. They are the leftovers of love affairs that didn’t work out.

The objects belong to the “Museum of Broken Relationships,” a travelling exhibition that asks people in the cities it visits to donate the mementos of everything from their fleeting infatuations to painful divorces. Originating in Croatia the show has since rolled through Sarajevo, Maribor, and Ljubljana and has now amassed over 200 objects. Zvonimir Dobrovic is organizing the Berlin show in the Tacheles arts center, a six-storey former squat in the heart of the city. “Berliners have already donated 20 new objects” he told SPIEGEL ONLINE, including a wedding dress and an ax used to break up an ex-girlfriend’s furniture.

Dobrovic explains that the germ of the idea came when two Zagreb-based artists Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic split up and wanted to do something creative with the vestiges of their relationship. “They put all their objects together and then asked their friends,” he explains. “The press got interested and people started donating items.” Soon the artists had a trailer full of objects and the Museum of Broken Relationships was born.

“We developed the idea of the ‘Museum of Broken Relationships’ where we can put the objects, get rid of them and not stay connected with that energy, but keep them and preserve them from oblivion,” co-founder Vistica told Reuters.

And the exhibition is supposed to act as a kind of therapy, so that instead of destroying objects they can be removed to the museum to “convalesce” and participate in a “collective emotional history.”

Perhaps the show has snowballed because it reveals just how universal the theme of lost love can be. “The more personal it is, I think, the more successful it is,” Vistica told Reuters. “The response of the people really proves that. They recognized it as something sincere.”

The cathartic effect is evident in some of the explanations that accompany the displays (see box above). A prosthetic limb from a war veteran who fell in love with his social worker is described as having “endured longer than our love: It was made of better material.” A pen is on display which was once used to write “romantic crap he didn’t deserve.” It’s not all doom and gloom though, one online dater in Sarajevo contributed the boxer shorts he got from the virtual girlfriend he never met in the flesh, “so they never got taken off.”

The artists also have a Web site where the broken-hearted can store SMS messages, photos and e-mails for anything from three months to four years, and if they choose, share the ill-fated communications with the rest of the world.

As for the objects themselves, after Berlin the next stops are Belgrade, Skopje and Stockholm and there even are plans to go global with possible shows in Tokyo, New York and Sao Paulo.

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