Nestled up in the East Bay hills resides Oakland Nature Friends, a 3-acre rustic retreat that overlooks the bay. Part of an international movement founded in the late 1800s in Austria, these groups celebrate their love of nature through family-friendly gatherings at their wilderness lodges and clubs.
In California, there’s three “Tourist Clubs”: up on the ridge of Mt. Tam; Los Angeles; Oakland. While access to these clubs is generally limited to its members, they open their doors to the general public for several annual events rooted in Austrian, German and Swiss culture.
As parking is limited (although a shuttle van service was offered to Butters Drive from the nearby Joaquin Miller Road), we were greeted warmly by one of the hosts when my husband and I appeared on bicycles – in keeping with the environmentally-friendly spirit of the gathering. The rousing music of the Internationals Band lured us in after we paid the $10/per person admission fee.
We were later joined by several of our fellow cycling comrades and gravitated towards the refreshments. After stocking up on tickets, we traded them in for pitchers of Spaten and Paulaner Oktoberfest draft beer, bratwurst, sauerkraut and spätzle. There was also a delightful assortment of desserts, including apple strudel and poppyseed cake.
Later on, as we basked in the sunshine at one of the picnic tables, we watched men clad in colorful lederhosen and women bedecked in frilly dirndl as they performed a traditional Schuhplattler courtship folk dance with lots of clapping, stamping and slapping of legs and feet. There was also a feisty rendition of the “Woodchopper’s Dance," or Holzhackertanz, with axes and saws brandished in rhythm to the music.