Will Work For Free
A Blog About My Experiences in Volunteer Work

Working to Reconect With My Heritage

In the 1930s, my mom’s dad or in other words my grandfather lent his blood, sweat and tears to the German Tourist Club.  A hidden gem tucked into the hills above Mill Valley, this unique place was a refuge for homesick Austrian and German immigrants.  Originally built in 1912, it served as a throw back to the way it was in the old country.  Built in traditioinal architectural fashion, the lodge could only be acessed by trails, making it the perfect location for social gatherings and a jumping off point for longer hikes through what is now known as Muir Woods.

For years I have been coming here.  Three times a summer, in May, July and September they host a party with traditional German dancing, attire, music food, beer and ambience.  A polka band turns the rustic wooden deck into a swirling, foot slapping shindig of lederhosen and frosty beer steins.

For kids there are games in the adjacent meadow and plenty of little nooks and crannies to explore; taking anyone with even a hint of imagination into the Alps of Germany and Austria.  It is a fixture of my childhood memories and a very special place to me.

The German Tourist Club is a members run, private institution that is the San Francisco chapter of the Friends of Nature.  They maintain the compound completely out of money earned during the parties and thanks to the help of volunteers.  Volunteering can eventually lead to membership, along with a few extra hoops along the way.

I volunteered for the first time two years ago.  With a hint of shame, it was not until this last weekend (September 13) that I completed my third volunteer day.  Considering my long standing relationship with the place I feel as though I should have already become a member, but that is neither here nor there.

The structure is obviously quite old and needs maintnance constantly as do the surounding grounds which are owned by the club.

On this particular morning I hike in by my self.  Typical of the area, the fog is so thick at 8 in the morning I can scarcely see ten fet infront of me.  The valley below is invisible and the fog blows across the hills gently.  Almost out of nowhere the Tourist Club appears; eerie in the heavy mist, tucked into a vast redwood grove.

A few other volunters stand idly on the main deck and I join them.  We introduce ourselves and wait for the coordinator, Oliver and the other volunteers to show up.  Oliver comes down from the kitchen of the lodge with a mug of coffee.  Even though it has been two years since I last made it to a work day, he recognizes me.  He is apparently famous amongst the club for remembering people’s full names and their relationship to the club.  He himself has a long family tradition and I can’t imagine is much older than 40.

Soon enough the 30 or so volunteers are delegated tasks.  I get sent onto a trail above the club with about six others and we begin to clear dead branches, invasive plants and overgrown weeds from the trail.  Some caution is needed, as poison oak is prevelant amongst the foliage.  Some of the people in attendance are not aware of what poison oak looks like or even what it does.  As a seasoned hiker in the area I am taken back by this, but quickly point it out.  As far as I know, everyone steered clear of it pretty well.  I half expected a rash to pop up within the next day or so, but none materialized.

I will be the firs to admit, this is volunteering with some motive.  As volunteers, we are ultimately seeking membership.  Membership grants you access to a lodge in Tahoe and dozens of others through out the world.  But it is more than that.  There are many who have been volunteering for several years and have not gone through the official process of obtaining membership.  The place is special, and once you have spent some time here it feels good to lend a hand.

I have had the oppurtunity of meeting many interesting people here.  Some are a tad salty; they wish the club was still an unknown gem rather than the popular location it has become.  But most are glad to meet enthusiastic, young volunteers who have an interest in hiking and the outdoors.  Hard work speaks for itself and is expected of volunteers.  All who attend the work days are rewarded with a grand lunch at the end of the day and the meal feels like you are sitting down with family and friends.  It is a true comunion and bread breaking in a place of great splendor.

I will continue to attend work days.  I have now fullfilled my obligations to become eligible for membership, but like all real members and enthusiasts, membership is not necessarily the culmination of my efforts.  I enjoy working outside and I enjoy the people whom I meet at this place where my grandfather too found a home away from home, so long ago.


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