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Kenya: Karen Blixen house

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Karen Blixen house | Kenya | Africa

[Visited: August 2008]

It was all very simple. I hopped on a local bus with "Karen" as its destination, talked to the person sitting next to me about the situation in Kenya, and got off the bus after less than an hour. Most of the time, we had actually spent in traffic jams; the distance from Nairobi to Karen is only about 10 km. The ticket seller on the bus advised me when to get off, right at historic Swedo house, built by Swedes in the early 20th century. First, I walked in the neighbourhood, and then went to the house where Karen Blixen stayed from 1914 to 1931. Built in 1912 by a Swedish engineer, the house was bought by Karen Blixen and her husband Baron von Blixen-Finecke. The house was later purchased by the Danish government and given as an independence gift to the Kenyan government in 1964. It was used in the movie "Out of Africa" and turned into a museum shortly after its release in the mid-1980s.

Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Karen Blixen house: frontal view

A tour of the house was quickly made, with one of the capable guides telling me stories about Karen Blixen and her time in Kenya. She pointed out furniture used by the Danish author, clothes used by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford while acting in the movie, explained how Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, used to live, and how her life took turns for the worst during her stay in Kenya. After first marrying the Swedish Baron, which automatically made her a Baroness, and moving to Kenya to start a coffee plantation, the marriage ended in divorce, her later love affair with Denys Finch-Hatton ended in tragedy when he crashed with his plane, and the coffee plantation did not deliver, probably because she used a wrong type of coffee plant. Even though she felt at home in Kenya, she was forced to sell the house in 1931 and return to her native Denmark. There, she would turn to writing, "Out of Africa" being her most famous novel based on her experiences in Kenya, and base for the Oscar-winning movie.

Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Path on the terrain of the house of Karen Blixen

After a visit to the house, I walked around the terrain and followed some of the trails in the bushes. One of them led me to an old coffee grinding machine, but unfortunately not to a point where I could enjoy a full view of the Ngong mountains of which I could at best see only the top outline. I walked back to Karen. Yes, the town here was renamed after the Danish author, who, during her stay, provided employment for many local Kikuyus and apparently was a good boss for them, treated them as equals decades before independence. She was therefore regarded highly by the Kenyans; even now, there are shops, hairdressers and restaurants named after her. After her forced departure, Karen Blixen would never returned between her departure and her death, in Denmark, in 1962.

Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Room of Denys Finch-Hatton in Karen Blixen house
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Karen Blixen house
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Trees surrounding Karen Blixen house
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Agricultural college neighbouring Karen Blixen house
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Looking at Karen Blixen house from the back
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Coffee grinding machine used by Karen Blixen
Picture of Karen Blixen house (Kenya): Old carriage used by Karen Blixen

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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