A Museum For The Heartbroken

I was staring at a wooden leg. It was on display. Next to it, a placard read:

“The prosthesis endured longer than our love. It was made of sturdier material.”

I was in Zagreb at the Museum of Broken Relationships. I didn’t know what to really expect when I had heard about this small three-room museum in the center of the Croatian capital.

I wasn’t sure if looking at objects that broken-hearted people had donated to the museum would have any redeeming value. After all, when I first heard about the museum, visiting it sounded about as joyful and exciting as a funeral procession.

But I was in Zagreb, a town I didn’t like very much (at least the last time I was there) and decided I had a choice: I could go to this museum or watch drunkards fall down in the main square. I went with the former.

“Well, a relationship very short, but mentally so tough and ‘crazy’ that it brought me to a moment of complete madness … and I cut my hair and I lived without it for a long time and no one loved me … And I was happy”
-Placard next to lock of hair

In the last year alone, I could start my own museum of broken relationships. But that’s not exactly why I was lured here. After all, it almost felt invasive to get a glimpse into someone’s past romantic relationships, even if the object they’d abandoned by donating it to the museum may have aroused a sense of catharsis.

I strolled around the museum, rotating my eyes between the objects and the placards. Each one told a story – sometimes in one sentence and sometimes in several paragraphs. I pulled out a notebook to make some notes and realized that – fittingly enough – the pen I was holding was from a hotel I had stayed in with someone I’d been romantically involved with the previous year.

“May it dance with teddy bears, wedding rings, love letters, and other people’s boxer shorts. But without me.”
-Placard next to a wedding dress

I tried my best to ignore it and began jotting down some of the items. There was an axe, various sex toys, a garden gnome, a pair of mannequin hands, and a clock that says, “We broke up on Skype.” I was only halfway through the museum but I decided I loved it here. Was it the sense that I was standing among the objects of people with whom I’ve recently shared something? Aside from our own survival and death, losing someone we love – that the person will revoke their love for us – is one of our biggest fears.

Later I would meet with the co-founder, Olinka Vistica, who started the museum with her ex-boyfriend as memorial to their own broken relationship. When I asked her about the appeal of the place, she had this to say: “I think we’ve tapped into something that’s important for each of us, something universal.” I asked why the museum is so popular. “It’s the celebration of the end of one cycle, an era, and the beginning of another.”

Gain and loss is something we experience on a daily basis. Sometimes we accept it. Sometimes we don’t – to the point it kills us. Which is why I think I may have gravitated here: a simple reminder of the impermanence of all things. We sometimes let life sweep us away, getting caught up in petty aspects of our life and anxieties about things that will fade with the passing of time. And it took me traveling to Zagreb, to visiting this small but fascinating museum to remind me that, really, the Museum of Broken Relationships is more than a depository of objects that symbolize lost love. It’s a museum dedicated to the ephemeral nature of things, something our minds trick us into forgetting about – certainly a self-defense mechanism.

If I needed a most dramatic reminder, it was the dog collar. It sat on a pedestal, a light on it frantically blinking. The note next to it was written by a man who had decided to break up with his wife. She, and the couple’s dog, moved back to her parents’ house until she could figure out how to get on with her life. The note went on to explain that, since he adored and missed the dog so much, his ex-wife sent the collar to him. A year went by and he was hoping for the best for both of them, that they could both move on and eventually be happy. But one day he got some sad and disturbing news: his ex-wife had found it impossible to move on so she gave up – she killed herself.

As I was making my way to the museum exit, I felt both weighed down by some of the heartbreak I read about as well as uplifted to have a reminder that pain and loss will come again in all of our lives. And to accept this is to transcend it.

But just for good measure, I took out that pen – the one I picked with the far away hotel scrawled across it – and discreetly left it on a table at the museum. Just for good measure, it was my own donation to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Photo Of The Day: Sunset Walk

Flickr user GogoTheGogo has taken a photo of what looks like the end of a perfect day. The image features a solitary figure in silhouette walking through the grass against a fiery orange sky in Zagreb, Crotia. I love the warm colors, the way the light plays off the little puffs of cloud, and most of all, the anonymity of that lone figure who gets to take this magnificent scene in.

Taken any great photos on your own travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Photo Of The Day: Coca Cola Everywhere

Like the golden arches, the green-backed mermaid and the swooping “Just Do It” check, the red and white Coca Cola logo is that ubiquitous symbol of American capitalism that’s near impossible to escape abroad. Flickr user Kurt Schmidt captured today’s Photo of the Day on the Cvjetni Trg in Zagreb, Croatia, achieving the vintage effect with the help of Instagram. He must have read our recent editorial about whether the mobile editing application is bastardizing travel photography, because he apologized for using the filter: “just liked it!” he wrote in the description. But in this photo of such a classic icon, it works.

Have you encountered symbols from home in the places you least expected? Upload your travel shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day: Spring comes to Croatia

Around the world, signs of spring are starting to appear. You smell it in the soft scent of pollen. You feel it in the positive energy emanating from people who have spent the winter in hibernation. And you see it in the tiny flower buds sprouting everywhere you look. Flickr user Gordan Renic perfectly captured the first signs of spring in Zagreb, Croatia, with this Photo of the Day, aptly titled “a gentle takeover.”

Do you have your own photos of spring’s awakening? Upload your favorite shots to the Gadling Group Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Discovering the king of baristas in Croatia’s caffeinated capital, Zagreb

Coffee is an obsession in Croatia, and in its capital, Zagreb, the coffee culture is as strong and prevalent as the locally prepared žižule grappa. And the coffee itself? It would knock the non-fat foam off a Starbucks latte any day.

But it’s not just about the flavor. Here, having coffee is as much of a social ritual as an essential kick-start to the day, and hours and hours are spent over a cup and saucer. It’s not surprising that locals have eschewed the “to-go” cardboard coffee cup and sleeve trend, opting instead to revere coffee as a destination in itself.

To understand this, you need only spend Saturday morning at the intersection of Bogoviceva and Gajeva Streets, near Zagreb’s Flower Square. The outdoor cafés stack up on these pedestrian-only passageways, and the well- and high-heeled patrons sit elbow to diamond earring and watch the world, and each other, catwalk by. The most coveted spot is a perch at Charlie (Gajeva, 4), once owned by the late footballer Mirku Bruan, who used his nickname as the bar’s moniker. Celebrities, models, actors, singers and femme fatales descend on this area of central Zagreb to see and be seen, and presumably drink coffee, in a phenomenon known locally as Spica. I’ve heard many translations for this word – pinnacle, point, and striker (the soccer/football position) among them — but ask a Zagreber and you’ll be told that Spica means only one thing: Saturday morning coffee.

In search of something a little more down to earth, and with lower heels, for my own Spica, I strolled along Ilica Street, Zagreb’s main thoroughfare. A few cafés appeared but none appealed to me — too smoky; too over-lit; too many laptops. Dodging an endless hustle of bikers and walkers, I stopped to lick the windows (as my French friends say) of pastry shops like the family-run Vincek, whose cakes and cookies looked too perfect to eat. Then one of the always-stuffed blue trams of Zagreb whirred down Ilica Street and startled me, and as I was recovering I noticed a crowd gathered beneath an awning printed with the words “simply luxury coffee.”

From the moment I entered the minuscule Eli’s Caffé, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary coffee experience, and that owner Nik Orosi was not going to be an ordinary barista.

Dober dan! (Good morning!),” Orosi yells when I walk in. Eli’s Caffé is all white, from the hollowed-out cubes displaying coffee cups hanging in the front window, to the walls, ceilings and streamlined furniture in the espresso-sized room. There is only space for a few high-top tables for two, and they are occupied, and the patrons lounging on the couch in the front of the room look as if they’re staying a while. I zero in on the 5-foot red-lacquered bar in front of Orosi.

The room is jammed, wool coats diminishing the scant space between bodies, and the guttural din of Croatian is my soundtrack as I do the shimmy, duck and pardon-me dance toward the only empty stool. For a few minutes I just watch Orosi. His hands pound and twist and wipe and push out coffee, orders for which dart through the heated air like fruit flies. Each time the door opens, about every 30 seconds, Orosi looks up to greet a new wave of caffeinerati, many of whom he knows by name. I can’t help but think of “Cheers.” Eventually Orosi asks me where I’m from. When I tell him San Francisco, he asks me if I know Blue Bottle Coffee. Of course I do. It’s good coffee, I say.

“They do make very good coffee, but their baristas are too stuffy,” Orosi responds. He faults most baristas for using big words, similar to wine experts and sommeliers. “Why would they do this? People don’t understand. It’s elitist and scares people away.”

Orosi knows a thing or two about barista-ing. He was the Croatian national champion three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has several other titles that include the word “best” in them. But Orosi doesn’t brag. He opened Eli’s, named after his son, in 2005 because of a dream he had had — and “to bring coffee closer to people.”

I order a strong coffee with milk and Orosi’s hands and arms know what to do without consulting his mouth or eyes. The barista king effortlessly toggles between English and his native tongue, and simultaneously manages to collect money, make coffee, chitchat, and wipe down his spotless La Marzocco coffee machine that he dotes on like a prized Ferrari. Before he serves the fresh brew, Orosi puts his nose in the cup and takes a sniff, swirls it, then sucks a small amount in his mouth. “No. Too watery,” he says, dumping it. He starts over.

Like everything in the café, Orosi’s set up behind the bar is uncluttered. No CDs for sale. No mug-lined shelves or cookies or breath mints. Just stacks of white coffee cups and saucers, the espresso machine, a sink, and the white on white relief of his café name and again the words “simply luxury coffee.”

Orosi sets down a thick-rimmed white saucer on the bar and turns it a few centimeters clockwise. He then places a small silver spoon on the saucer, followed by the cup, which he turns so the handle faces right to expose his logo, which is really an anti-logo. He pours in the coffee, and then pours in the hot, slightly aerated milk. With a flick of the wrist, he conjures a heart pattern in the foam, then slides the concoction toward me.

I ask him about the writing on the cup that reads “No logo/ just taste.”

“I just want to make good coffee,” he says. “I don’t want people to think it’s good because it’s a certain brand.”

Orosi tells me that he also removed the menu that once hung behind the bar so that people would talk to him directly about his product. He also says the walls of the room used to be charcoal grey — the antithesis of the café’s current unpigmented interior.

“I don’t want people to come in and order #5. I want it to feel open, and for people to focus on coffee and learn something about coffee,” he says. “Just because you drink it every day doesn’t mean you know about it. I eat every day but I’m not going to call myself a chef.”

As if on cue, two women walk in, wave, and yell out something in Croatian. “See, that’s what I’m talking about,” smiles Orosi. I ask him what they said.

“They just asked for two of my best coffees,” he smiles, and wipes down his coffee machine again.

I take a sip and the coffee’s taste is full-bodied, not at all acrid like a lot of the coffee I have tried on my Croatian trip so far. It also contains just the right amount of heated milk. I close my eyes.

“Look at this,” Orosi says. He opens his hands to reveal a palm full of coffee beans: dry, brown, aromatic. Eli’s Caffé, for now, is the only establishment in Zagreb that roasts its own beans. Orosi takes a whiff and identifies the beans as Tanzanian and the ones he is using today. In the few moments we’ve been talking seven other orders have landed on his ears, and he grows silent to catch up.

“I love being busy but it keeps me from talking to people,” he says, not looking up.

I sip, watch and listen. Every now and again Orosi sings a few bars of the national anthem, the American national anthem, which I assume is for my benefit. I ask him if I can take his picture and he smiles sheepishly, lowering his eyes. His list of awards and accolades is long, and I know I’m not the first to ask for a photo, but he keeps moving, avoiding the lens and my request. I drain my last drop and begin to leave, but Orosi insists I stay for a second cup.

“After two glasses of Champagne, you’ll do something wrong. After two cups of coffee, it’s all right.”

For another 20 minutes, I am content to remain in Orosi’s caffeinated world, a world I serendipitously fell into and one I tell him I’ll return to in a week.

“Come on Monday,” he yells as I open the door to leave. “The Ethiopian beans will be perfect by then.”

When I return the coffee is indeed perfect, again. And Orosi still won’t look directly at the camera. Next time.

Eli’s Caffé
Ilica 63, Zagreb
+385 (0)91 4555 608

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. See her full bio at www.kimberleylovato.com.

[image by Kimberley Lovato]