The Karen Blixen Museum, Nairobi : The Complete Guide : Out of Africa, a classic book by Danish author Karen Blixen that chronicled her life on a Kenyan coffee plantation, was published in 1937. The iconic opening line of the book, which was later made famous by Sydney Pollack’s film of the same name, was “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The Karen Blixen Museum is now located on the original farm, giving visitors the chance to discover the allure of Blixen’s tale for themselves.
Karen Blixen, who was born Karen Dinesen in 1885, is regarded as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. She was born and raised in Denmark, but she and her fiancé, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, later moved to Kenya. The newlywed couple decided to start a coffee farm after getting married in Mombasa in 1914, purchasing their first farm in the Great Lakes region. The Blixens moved their larger farm north of Nairobi in 1917. The Karen Blixen Museum eventually evolved from this farm.
The Blixens started a plantation on their new property, even though the farm was situated at an elevation that had previously been thought to be too high for growing coffee. Bror, Karen’s husband, showed little interest in managing the farm, leaving Karen to shoulder the majority of the workload. He was known to be unfaithful to her and frequently left her there alone. Bror filed for divorce in 1920, and Karen was appointed the farm’s official manager a year later.
Blixen wrote about her experiences coexisting with the local Kikuyu people and living alone as a woman in a highly patriarchal society. In the end, it also detailed her relationship with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, which has been hailed as one of the greatest love stories in literature. The coffee plantation was hit by drought, unsuitable ground, and the collapse of the global economy in 1931, the same year Finch Hatton died in an airplane crash.
Blixen sold the farm in August 1931 and left for her native Denmark. Although she would never set foot on the continent again, she captured its magic in the novel Out of Africa, which she wrote under the alias Isak Dinesen. She later released a number of other highly regarded books, such as Babette’s Feast and Seven Gothic Tales. After leaving Kenya, Karen suffered from illness for the rest of her life and passed away at the age of 77 in 1962.
THE HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM
The Ngong Hills Farm, also called Mbogani by the Blixens, is a beautiful example of colonial bungalow design. The Swedish engineer Ke Sjögren finished it in 1912, and Bror and Karen Blixen bought it five years later. 600 acres of the 4,500 acres under the control of the house were used for growing coffee. The farm was bought by developer Remy Marin, who sold the land in 20-acre parcels when Karen left for Denmark in 1931.
Before the Danish government finally bought the house in 1964, it had been occupied by a number of different people. In appreciation for Kenya’s independence from the British Empire, which had been attained several months earlier in December 1963, the Danes gave the country’s new government the house. The house was initially used as a College of Nutrition up until the 1985 release of Pollack’s movie adaptation of Out of Africa.
Meryl Streep played Karen Blixen in the movie, and Robert Redford played Denys Finch Hatton. It was an instant classic. As a result, the National Museums of Kenya made the decision to turn Blixen’s former residence into a museum dedicated to her life. Despite the irony, the farm in the movie is not the one that is featured in the Karen Blixen Museum, which was first made available to the public in 1986.
THE MUSEUM TODAY
Visitors to the museum today have the chance to travel back in time and experience the opulence of Blixen’s Kenya. It is easy to conjure up images of colonial dignitaries enjoying tea on the house’s expansive columned verandahs or of Blixen greeting Finch Hatton upon his return from the bush by strolling through the garden. The home has been lovingly restored, and Karen-owned furniture fills the rooms’ large spaces.
The history of coffee cultivation in Kenya and colonial life in the early 20th century are both covered by guided tours. With the help of sentimental items like books that once belonged to Finch Hatton and a lantern that Karen used to let him know when she was home, visitors can expect to hear tales about Blixen’s time spent at the farm. The garden itself is worth visiting outside due to its serene ambiance and breath-taking views of the renowned Ngong Hills.
The museum is situated in the affluent suburb of Karen, which was constructed on land Marin developed after Blixen returned to Denmark, six miles (10 kilometers) from the city center of Nairobi. The museum is open every day, including weekends and holidays, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission costs KSh 1,200 for adults and KSh 600 for children, with discounts for Kenyan and East African citizens. A guided tour is included, but tips are expected. There is a gift shop where you can look through memorabilia from Out of Africa as well as conventional Kenyan crafts and trinkets.
If you’re taking public transportation, Matatu 24 (a Kenyan minibus), which travels by the entrance, is the quickest way to get there. If not, you can call a cab or sign up for a tour. The Karen Blixen Museum is the perfect pit stop on a day tour of Nairobi because of its convenient location for seeing other top Nairobi attractions. A few minutes away are popular shopping malls Marula Studios and Kazuri Beads, and nearby attractions include the Giraffe Centre and the elephant orphanage at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.