Diversity in display

Diversity in display

As museums go, Bunker 10-Z isn't a typical one. The Cold War remnant is a chilling (literally) tribute to its origins, that of a nuclear fallout shelter. Now a hotel, it makes for an interesting exhibition space, with a diesel-generator engine room, an air filtration room, an emergency telephone exchange, a decontamination room, and a milk bar. The best way to absorb this museum is by living in it. Nothing prepares you for the fallout of a nuclear war more than sleeping in a deathly quiet, pitch dark, underground space surrounded by gas masks, medicine boxes, maps, old motorbikes, telephones, typewriters and other items that would come in handy in case of a nuclear war.

Eastern Europe abounds in such unusual museums. There, I've toured horrific Nazi prisons in Warsaw, studied the life of the tortured genius at the Chopin museum in Vienna, and learned about the history of sex machines at the Sex Machines Museum in Prague.

Here, then, are my picks of some of the most interesting and innovative museums to visit.

Time machines

Vienna's Clock Museum is an informative journey through time. Housed in one of the oldest houses in Vienna, Hafenhaus (Harpist's House), it has over 700 clocks on display. At the museum, I learned about early chronometers, tower clocks, pillar clocks, clock organs, lantern clocks, pendant and pocket watches studded with diamonds and miniature paintings, mantel clocks with pendulums, and Viennese flute clocks that played music. There were clocks bigger than me, and some smaller than a thimble.

Austria was once one of the leading clockmakers in the world, and the museum showcases some of this history through exquisite pieces - an astronomical bracket clock from 1653, a tower clock from St Stephen's Cathedral, and the oldest object in the museum: a watchman's clock with ceramic figures dating back to the early 15th century.

All the timepieces had notes displaying their age and history, and many were in functioning order. My favourite section was the picture clocks, which were made in Austria in 1780. These stunning pictures usually feature  landscapes and historical events painted on metal sheets and hiding tiny dials. The most unusual piece was an astronomical clock designed by a priest. The altarpiece with wings showed planetary constellations and calendars of different cultures and faiths.

Memories of a breakup

I walked into the Museum of Broken Relationships on a lark, wondering what catharsis the lovelorn could find in sending in mementoes of relationships gone bad. An hour later, I walked out much sobered, realising that love can leave behind emotional and physical baggage. The museum was a repository of the latter.

The physical representation of broken relationships could not have a more apt, or a more beautiful setting: a baroque Kulmer palace in Zagreb's historical Upper Town. The space is all white and has three main sections - the shop, the exhibit space, and a café.

Each object had a synopsis, and a story, if you may, about its value. There were the usual stuffed animals, toys, books, letters, and drawings. The entries were anonymous, so it was up to me to decipher the gender, age and the person who has sent in that note. I read every story, and though much of it was lost in translation, the sense of loss was easy to understand.

In the family section, a small nook had a dress, shoes and a handbag. Sent in by a grieving woman from Warsaw, they told a story about a family fighting cancer. Another story was of a supportive man who turned out to be a sexual predator. The story was from a survivor of child sexual abuse. An audio-visual section told the story of a young girl who fell in love with a soldier who never returned.

It wasn't all sadness and despair. Some stories made me laugh. A hamburger toy, sent in from Luxembourg in 2011, had the note: 'His dog left more traces behind than he did.'   A router, sent in from San Francisco in 2008, had the neatest story: 'We tried. Not Compatible'. An axe called the 'ex-axe' told the story about a jilted person who took the instrument and destroyed all the furniture belonging to her lover. The cutest one was a list of '10 Reasons to Stay'. It was sent in by someone from London and dedicated to a woman he knew for three weeks, and who was leaving for Australia. Among the reasons was this gem: 'Lately, I've been finding lots more money on the streets of London'.

The museum was started as an art project by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006, a former couple who decided to celebrate the mementoes that made up their relationship. What started as a travelling exhibition found a permanent home in Zagreb in 2010. The museum has a Brokenships Museum Café for those looking for a pick-me-up, but I found the shop more exciting. Abundant in puns on break-ups, my favourite were chocolates with the message: 'Hope your ass gets bigger'.

Let's go LEGO

It felt like we were in the middle of the LEGO movie. The LEGO Museum (Museum of Bricks) is the worlds biggest, and expectedly, is designed to astonish and delight.

Every brick had a  purpose. They found their way into over 2,500 exhibits, divided into 20 themes. There was a mini city, complete with little houses with gardens, police stations, post offices and constructions sites; railway sets; F1 racing cars; and characters from comics, movies and books. Think Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, and even Barbie and Ken sharing one roof.

The collections were stored behind glass shelves, with notes examining their origin and how many bricks went into their construction.

The corners and alcoves were reserved for stand-alone heritage structures - the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Kremlin, among others. An impressive Taj Mahal was the biggest factory-set LEGO ever made, with 5,922 bricks.  The museum's top floor was for those seeking to pay homage to that cult space saga, Star Wars. A section was dedicated to Harry Potter. The giant spiders looked cute; Hagrid didn't seem giant enough; Quidditch was indicated by just three hoops, and the characters looked bored.

The home city also found adequate representation. An entire alcove was dedicated to the Charles Bridge - a five-metre monument filled with 1,000 figurines, which made for a fun game of guessing.

 

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