Karen Blixen-Finecke was a Danish author who wrote works in Danish and English. She is best known under her pen names Isak Dinesen, used in English-speaking countries, and Tania Blixen, used in German-speaking countries. But thats not all, her early years started here, when she arrived in Kenya to join her husband Baron Bror Fredrik von Blixen-Finecke, a swedish born writer who was a passionate hunter.
Baron had sold his land to settle here, at the foot of Ngong hills, with the hope that he would farm coffee and become a millionaire. Over 4,000 hectares of this land then was filled with coffee, workers quitters, a coffee factory built by Karen’s brother and the house they used to live in. Karen fell in love with this place, having been born in the flat danish landscape, she loved to wake up and enjoy the view of Ngong hills.
The last years of Karen in Kenya were not rosy, she had divorced from her husband, lost her lover and lost interest in farming. Part of the land was subdivided in 20 hectares and sold. She had to arrange the resettlement of her workers and later sold the house to her friend and left the country. Later, out of Africa was born, her first book published in 1937, now translated to seven languages and a famous movie filmed in 1985. Its her writing career that made her famous.
The danish government later bought the house, which they later gifted to the government of Kenya and now its a museum managed by National Museum of Kenya. Some of her household items were also bought and others were donated, noticeable are the pictures she painted while she lived here, and some personal collection of chest cabinets some imported. When standing at the main door, Karens favorite spot….sitting on her make shift table made from grinding stones imported from India, here she sat and treated her workers as she marvelled at the site of Ngong Hills. The trees have grown but the hills still conquer.
Some of the machines used during those early years of farming still rest here in the field. The oxen plough and the wagon they used to transport coffee from the farm to Nairobi before it could be send to mombasa then shipped for processing. The old tractor with metal tyres still fights for its survival in the modern world of the ignition key. The kitchen is intact though not factional, with a picture of her chef, who cooked for the Prince of Wales when he visited and for all this years cooked for her. It is here in this house that Karen entertained her guest prince of wales twice.
Karen loved to paint, she loved to write and she loved people. When she lived here, there was no running water, her metal bathtub was filled with water that was boiled from the kitchen adjacent to the house. She did not have electricity either, the reason why the kitchen had to be a few steps from the main house because they used wood to cook and lanterns for light.
Karen and her friend dreamed of one day owning a ship and when the dream took long to mature, she bought two ship lights, one green and one red which she placed on top of her house and got the satisfaction of her house being turned into a ship, at least for a night. Today, the house is surrounded with nature trail, which gives a peaceful walk and being lost in a cold and peaceful natures embrace.
This is a good place to come and unwind, learn something and enjoy just being away from the troubles of the city. In Denmark, part of the house where Karen lived when she left Kenya is also a museum, its a place am looking forward to visit one of this days. Her picture was used on the postal stamp of Denmark on the 50 Danish Kroner note. If you are in Denmark, I hope it will be on your list ‘of places to visit’ the museum and am sure you will enjoy.
Karen’s writing career was very fruitful, she went on to publish other books after Out of Africa’s success with her last book being published after her death. For me her life is a true reflection of living life to the full, creating an impact and shaping the future in a very small way that has a bigger impact.
Welcome to Karen Blixen Museum – Nairobi.