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Precious history hidden in Karen Blixen Museum

Tuesday June 04 2019
Karen Blixen

The Karen Blixen Museum in Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By COLLINS KARIUKI

At the foot of the Ngong Hills, 10 kilometres from Nairobi, lies a 19th century bungalow named after renowned Danish author Karen Blixen. The building houses the Karen Blixen Museum.

With its serene environment, lush green lawns and cool breeze, one cannot help but fall for its charm and promise of tranquillity.

Karen Blixen and her husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke bought the house built in 1912 by Swedish engineer Ake Sjogren. It served as a farmhouse on their 4,500-acre farm.

Ms Blixen came to Kenya in 1914 to get married to Baron Fincke. The couple grew coffee, though it was not as profitable as they had expected.

Seven years later, Blixen’s marriage turned sour and she and her husband divorced in 1921, leaving her the sole manager of their farm. She later fell in love with a big-game hunter named Denys Finch Hatton.

In 1931, Blixen’s second tragedy in love struck when Hatton died in a plane crash. This, coupled with the difficulties of coffee farming, forced Karen to return to Denmark, where she penned her most famous work, Out of Africa. She was on a shortlist of writers considered for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Remy Martin later bought the farm, part of which was gradually transformed into today’s upmarket Karen estate.

Later, a Colonel Loyd bought the farm and lived there until 1954. Subsequently, the Danish government bought the house, but would give it to Kenya in 1964 as a gift. The government set up a college of nutrition on the land and used the house as the principal’s office. But after the success of the movie Out of Africa, based on Blixen’s autobiography, in 1985 the National Museums of Kenya acquired the house and opened the Karen Blixen Museum in 1986.

Today it has most of Karen’s furniture and a museum shop that sells handicraft and postcards. Its gardens are also rented for weddings and corporate events.

The building’s unique architecture and its association with European settlers and the iconic Karen Blixen give the museum unique historical significance.

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