Though you’d hardly know it anymore, about 100 years ago, Oakland’s Dimond District might have been mistaken for a small town in Germany: Four outdoor beer gardens lined what was then called Hopkins Street (now MacArthur Boulevard), and the neighborhood was something of a resort destination for Germans looking to be reminded of their home country. The beer gardens were shuttered during prohibition, but the neighborhood remains steeped in German influence. The Althenheim, a historically landmarked former retirement home for elderly German Americans, still stands on MacArthur Boulevard, and the Dimond retains one of the highest concentrations of German descendants in the East Bay. So when local boosters Daniel Swafford and Stan Dodson were seeking to found a free festival that could get people excited about the oft-overlooked Dimond District, it was only natural that they look to the neighborhood’s past and throw their own spin on the classic German celebration Oktoberfest. It didn’t hurt, of course, that beer is always a crowd-pleaser, or that the East Bay’s craft-beer culture has blossomed in recent years.
According to Swafford, when he and Dodson first conceived of the event, the neighborhood, just north of Fruitvale, was “at a real low point.” But the two had been buoyed by recent development in the neighborhood. They wanted to build on that momentum to give Dimond dwellers even more to be proud of — not to mention raise some money for local improvement projects. The festival’s 2008 debut drew a few thousand people, and this year, according to Swafford — who is running for the district’s city council seat — they’re hoping for 15,000. Though the event is free, drink sales and sponsorships raise money for the kinds of beautification and revitalization projects that have dramatically changed the face of the neighborhood since Swafford and Dodson were first inspired to create Oaktoberfest.
But it’s as much a celebration of the neighborhood’s past and present as it is a fund-raiser. This year’s event will place taco trucks and turf dancers next to old-school polka bands and traditional sauerkraut, bratwurst, and schnitzel. The music lineup features sets by local middle-school jazz bands, classic German musicians, and local Latin-rockers En Vivo. Then there’s the beer itself: a massive tent full of traditional German and new-school craft beers from eighteen Northern California breweries, seven of them based in the East Bay. The event pitches itself as family-friendly, meaning there will also be a kids’ area with its own Rootbier garten — to which Dreyers has donated “more ice cream than we know what to do with,” according to Laurie Earp, who is handling the event’s publicity. There will also be a homebrew competition, eco-fair, and plenty more activities for kids and adults. Oaktoberfest in the Dimond happens Saturday, October 9, in the Dimond District (Fruitvale Ave. between Colma St. and Montana Ave.; MacArthur Blvd. between Dimond and Lincoln aves., Oakland). 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free.