Out of Denmark: Karen Blixen

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Although those are the familiar words with which Karen Blixen started her autobiographical novel 'Out of Africa', she also had a family house in a village near Copenhagen to which she returned, and which today is a place of pilgrimage for fans of her book and of the big screen epic.

Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen Museum 

Few people have had such a powerful impact on the tourism of a country as the Danish writer Karen Blixen had on that of Africa. The Hollywood version of Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep as the author, inspired thousands to travel to see first hand the wide open landscapes, the people and the wildlife of Kenya, and by association those of neighbouring countries such as Tanzania.

But although many travel to the Blixen Farm, Nairobi, the grave of Denys Finch Hatton - the character played by Robert Redford, in the film - and other scenes from the book, fans remain fascinated by the central character of Blixen herself. And much of her story is to be found in her native Denmark, the land to which she returned after the death of Finch Hatton, and where she spent her time writing until her death in 1962.

The family home in which Blixen was born in 1885, and to which she returned in 1931, is a sixteenth century mansion on the shores of a misty sea. Located in Rungsted, 26 kilometres north of Copenhagen, on the Strait of Oresund, the 40 acres that surround it form a veritable nature reserve frequented by many migratory birds.

Alone here with her memories, Blixen entered on a literary career. The early period was difficult, but her popularity increased with critics and public alike, and a number of her tales were filmed after her death, including The Immortal Story, starring and directed by Orson Welles and Babette's Feast, directed by Gabriel Axel.

She travelled to the United States and became friends with leading writers there. In turn, some visited her at Rungsted. Truman Capote talked of his visit, describing her as “a true seductress, a conversational seductress.” and spoke of how she sat by the fire in the beautiful house and “lured one from this topic to that...”

They say that each night at Rungsted she would open the door and look for a moment towards the south, towards her beloved Africa. Then she would return inside and contemplate the drawings and pictures and the map of the farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Here, in the rooms of the family house is the box from Zanzibar that Farah the Somali servant gave her, as well as spears and shields and parasols, hardly the typical decor for a solid Scandinavian mansion. But this, too, was her home, and here, under an enormous tree behind the house she was buried.

The area has other literary and cultural attractions, too. Some ten kilometres to the north, Knud W. Jensen, a friend of Blixen, bought Louisiana, an estate alongside the sea, to house his private art collection. Including works by Picasso, Rauschenberg, Dubuffet, Giacometti and others, it is now one of the most interesting museums in Europe with art in juxtaposition with nature.

Farther still to the north, where the Oresund Strait opens wide to the sea, is Helsingor. This is the original Elsinor where Shakespeare set his tragedy Hamlet. The Bard took his inspiration from a much earlier legend and never visited the place, nor did he stay in Kronborg Castle, perched on an outcrop in the narrowest part of the Strait, although it dates from the sixteenth century.

Tips & suggestions
Where to stay:
The beautiful five-star Hotel d'Angleterre, offers an unbeatable location alongside the Theatre Royal, the main shopping centre and the Nyhavn Canal. With one star less, the elegant 71 Nyhavn Hotel is located in a former warehouse overlooking the harbour.

Where to eat:
Try Formel with its sophisticated mix of classical French with quality Danish ingredients, or Noma one of the best restaurants in Copenhagen. Or, for a typical lunch, the open sandwich known as smorrebrod, Slotskaeldere (Fortunstraede 4), just moments away from Stroget, the main shopping street. There are also dozens of tempting restaurants around Garbrodretorv.

Further information:
Karen Blixen Museum
Danish Tourist Board