If you don't think of yourself as a museum-goer, the issue might not be that you don't like museums — it could just be that you haven't found the right one yet. That's the thinking behind International Museum Day, which celebrates every kind of museum under the sun, from the heavy-hitters like the Louvre and Smithsonian Institute to the tinier, weirder specimens. And while many of us have only had the experience of being dragged through a huge museum on a family trip, looking at famous paintings and Roman relics for hours on end, there's much more to the world of museums than that — like the many small museums that are centered around one specific item or topic, often the most obscure and bizarre items or topics possible.
I am a self-confessed weird museum fanatic. I was fascinated when the highly entertaining Museum of Letters & Manuscripts in Paris, home to bits of writing from history's famous figures, was raided and closed when it was discovered to be part of a massive money fraud ring. (The fraud was financial; the manuscripts were very real.) I love collections of weird anatomical specimens, upsetting taxidermy, kitsch collections of pointless nonsense, and terrifying miniatures (particularly terrifying miniatures). These seven odd museums represent only a small slice of the weirdness available for the devoted museum fan worldwide, but they're all enough to make for an extremely bonkers first date — and a great introduction to the wider world of small museums.
Museum Of Broken Relationships
Where You'll Find It: Zagreb & LA
What It Is: One of the most famous bizarre museums in the world, the original Zagreb-based Museum Of Broken Relationships centered around the break-up of two Croatian artists, who decided to make the detritus of their relationship into an exhibition. It proved so popular it has opened a second location in Los Angeles.
It's unique in that it's almost entirely user-created; the vast majority of the artifacts on display are the remnants of the break-ups of people around the world, sent in by the people who lived it and accompanied by short explanations of what happened (or didn't happen). Even if you don't go, it's a good place to keep bookmarked — now you have someplace to send all those love letters you don't want to burn but just can't keep.
Museum of Failure
Where You'll Find It: Helsingborg, Sweden
What It Is: It's what it says on the box, really. Dr. Samuel West has collected examples of the most catastrophic failed ideas and products in history, from coffee-flavored soda to a Donald Trump board game to the above-pictured Colgate lasagnas. (Yep, that's real.) It's a new addition to the museum market, having only opened this yeat, but it's started strong with traveling exhibitions planned for Miami, Berlin and Amsterdam.
Most of the items exhibited in the museum are almost comically weird failed products, like Harley-Davidson perfumes — but West told the New York Times that the idea for the museum centered around the necessity of failure for true innovation: "All the literature is obsessively focused on success, but 80 to 90 percent of innovations actually fail. Why don’t these failures get the attention they actually deserve?”
Museum Of Art Fakes
Where You'll Find It: Vienna, Austria
What It Is: If you're fascinated by the world of fakery and fraud, this is the museum for you — but art lovers who are incensed by the idea of people fleecing collectors and experts may want to steer clear.
For art purists, this is the anti-museum: a collection of brilliant fakes of famous artists, including many produced by the forger Edgar Mrugalla, whose career came to light in the late 1980s when he revealed his handiwork to police. The Fälschermuseum, as it's technically called, also carries works from other famous frauds, including Tom Keating, whose excellent fakes were meant to be a comment on the "corruption" of the art world.
Where You'll Find It: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What It Is: The Mutter Museum is a medical museum par excellence — and for that reason, a visit requires a seriously strong stomach. Any Tom, Dick or Ripley's Believe It Or Not can amass a collection of strange anatomical specimens, but the Mutter, founded in the mid-1800s, has one of the greatest and best-preserved assortments in America.
Their collection includes Albert Einstein's brain, the livers of conjoined twins, books made of human skin, and the Chevalier Jackson collection, which the museum explains is "2,374 inhaled or swallowed foreign bodies that Dr. Jackson extracted from patients’ throats, esophaguses, and lungs." It's fascinating, creepy and incredibly weird.
And it has areas noted to be "fainting spots" — places where visitors often fall over due to body horror.
Where You'll Find It: Sierksdorf, Germany
What It Is: Many of the world's more entertaining small museums are the product of a single-minded obsession, and the Banana Museum is no different. It's the brainchild of Bernhard Stellmacher, who told Atlas Obscura that he became fascinated with bananas after hearing that they were 'nature's smile.' If you can't get enough of East German cars filled with bananas and every other kind of paraphernalia, there's always the International Banana Museum stateside, which caught international attention when its entire 17,000-strong collection was sold and sent to a new owner in 2010. It now lives in a museum in Mecca, California.
Nuclear Bunker Museum
Where You'll Find It: Prague, Czechia
What It Is: The Prague Nuclear Bunker Museum is a relic of a time when nuclear war seemed an intensely strong possibility, and the Czech Republic wasn't taking any chances. If you want to feel the real taste of Cold War paranoia, take the tour that ends with this subterranean collection of gas masks, protective gear, and loads of chemical testing equipment to see if the world above was safe yet.
The bunker wasn't intended for long stays, just for brief rescue from the destruction of the city. And no, you probably won't want to stay down there for an extended period either.
Magic Circle Museum
Where You'll Find It: London, England
What It Is: This is the place to go if you're a fan of sleight-of-hand, illusion and conjuring. It's the home of one of the oldest magic-centric societies in England, founded in 1905 to help magicians to share techniques and secrets without risking exposure in the outside world. The Magic Circle remains a well-attended private club for high-end magicians, but it also has a museum of magic history, and that's where things get very cool (and very weird).
Alongside a huge collection of rare books available only to members, there are pieces from the acts of magic's greatest figures, like Houdini. One of the star items? The Zig-Zag Lady, the trick that cuts a woman into three parts.
And perhaps the strangest fact about Magic Circle? Prince Charles is a member, having passed the entry test in 1975.