May 19, 2016
Foreword: This post was written by me during my time in Osijek, Croatia on a volunteering program organized by a youth-run organization called AIESEC. This visit was planned as part of a 7-week long project I undertook along with six other people hailing from as many countries.
“Great attention gets paid to rainforests because of the diversity of life there. Diversity in the oceans is even greater.”
— Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer
A bright sunny morning, temperature hovering around 22°C, with a calming breeze.
Quite possibly the perfect weather to go out for a swim. However, on this particular Tuesday we decided to explore the underwater world, but in a unique fashion. The Gloria Maris Association, along with the City of Osijek as well as the Tourist Board, a permanent exhibition showcasing the wonderful wonders of sea life was opened in February 2010. Muzej Školjaka I Vodenog Svijeta Osijek (Shell Museum and Water World of Osijek), features the largest display of underwater life in Croatia and Central Europe. The rare artifacts available for viewing are the envy of various museums around the world.
As we enter the museum, we are welcomed by a middle-aged man who introduces himself as Vladimir Filipović. Originally a judge, Vladimir gave up his profession to follow the one passion in his life; collecting the rarest fossils, shells, mollusks, and fishes. “My wife still hates me because this decision reduced our monetary resources,” Vladimir jokes.
“So far his collection numbers about 3 million different specimens of seashells, sea snails, and other marine artifacts. The whole collection is amongst the largest in the world,” his interpreter explains.
Vladimir first started collecting shells when he was four and has been doing so for fifty years now. Although his passion has taken him around the world in search of specimens, he admits having a personal attachment to the Philippines and the Caribbean islands in particular. For this reason, he was ecstatic to hear that one of our interns is from the Caribbean (Martinique).
Unlike most museums, Vladimir believes in providing his visitors with a personalized experience. He brings out the rarest items from his collection and explains about each of them in detail. “Every single specimen over here has an interesting story behind it!” he exclaims. First up, he brings out a white cylindrical item called the Venus’ flower basket. Popular
as a wedding gift in Japan, it is a delicate item which needs to be handled with care. Vladimir continues, “Once, a guy asked me if he could hold this in his own hands, and I said to him that he could, but only if he touches it with the same care as he would touch a girl… And that guy ended up poking a hole into it!” he laughs.
Vladimir’s passion for every single item in his collection is evident in the way he personifies them. However, what is even more remarkable about the man is that he continues his work even in the absence of sufficient resources. “Due to a paucity of space, we can only showcase about 7% of our total collection. We have no employees, all the work is handled by volunteers.”
Vladimir’s determination to keep his museum running is impressive, but the splendid charisma with which he approaches his work is even more inspiring. As we walk around the museum looking at the colorful shells on display, we find a few stuffed fishes and sharks as well. “I love fishing, but when I get a good catch, I usually end up eating it” he chuckles. Vladimir’s wife is equally hospitable, as she presents refreshments to us. The humble manner in which the couple approaches their visitors is heartwarming.
“I went diving a few weeks ago, and later today, I will go fishing.” Even after five decades of collecting, Vladimir’s innate fascination with the marine world refuses to die. As we part ways with Vladimir and his breathtaking exhibition, my mind spirals into a deep thought. Vladimir used an interpreter to communicate in English, but yet he has traveled around the world in search of collectibles. Indeed, the determination of this man to overcome all obstacles, in order to fulfill his passion leaves us all in awe.