In the end, the woman who’d carefully collected her ex-boyfriend’s belly button fluff decided against donating it to the Museum Of Broken Relationships. Kai Kullen, a museum curator in Cologne, Germany, bears the news with stoicism, even though it’s clear an exhibition highlight has just slipped through his fingers.

“She had it all nice in a little glass,” he says. “Like a religious relic.”

The museum – which is actually a touring exhibition – is a collection of exhibits from failed relationships, the brainchild of Croatian artists Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic. They’ve managed to bring together thousands of objects, donated by heartbroken lovers. At each stop on the tour, a call goes out to the public for new exhibits, with a few explanatory sentences also required.

You can check their website to see where on the globe the show will pop up next. The mother house, so to speak, is in Zagreb, Croatia while Los Angeles, the city of (broken) dreams, also hosts a permanent exhibition.

broken relationships

Dried roses, tea, locks of hair and a chocolate ladybird in Angelika Jaekels box of mementoes at the Museum of Broken Relationships show in Cologne, Germany.

At a recent stop in Cologne, half of the objects displayed ended up coming from jilted Germans who were fascinated by the idea.

Though the guaranteed anonymity means the stories can’t be checked, it does ensure a glimpse into people’s hearts which otherwise would unlikely be possible. Some exhibits speak for themselves; the burnt wedding dress stuffed into a jam jar, for example.

In the “fetish corner”, there’s a dildo, given to its recipient because the couple had sworn not to have sex before marriage. In another corner, there’s a sword that a woman brought back from Asia as a gift from her Japanese lover. When she realised that this type of sword is meant to be used for harakiri, or suicide, she got spooked and the relationship went sour.

Other exhibits are less flamboyant – like the two red mugs with broken handles that once belonged to a student couple. Until he broke up with her, casually via Skype during his study year abroad.

“He got to know someone 10 years younger, another German, an au-pair and apparently sooooooo open,” writes the dumped party. “I was so angry, with him, with myself, with the phrase ‘another German’.”

Anger, despair, sadness, incredulousness, shame – if you’ve had your heart broken, you’ll find something to identify with in this show. Some stories are bizarre, others tell of the small upsets in a relationship which gradually lead to its demise.

Sometimes the museum can be educational, as certain patterns become recognisable: study-years abroad are dangerous times for couples. Festivals can also be difficult times. Someone sent in a tube of genital herpes cream they had to use after a lover turned libertine.

Angelika Jaekel demanded no anonymity about what her contribution to the show in Cologne; a box filled with dried roses, tea, locks of hair and chocolate ladybird, which she collected as presents from or to her former boyfriend.

The couple had got to know each other at a 2001 carnival in Cologne and bumped into one another again in the same place and time six years later. They decided it must be fate. Though he lived in Paris, France the long-distance relationship worked well.

“But then I made a big mistake and let him move into my flat,” she says. He ended the awkward cohabitation with her via text message and left the box behind. He never knew it was being exhibited to the public in a museum. – dpa/Jonas-Erik Schmidt

For more information on the permanent museums and the touring exhibitions, head to the website. You can also contribute to the collection.