In 1890, the Zittau narrow-gauge railroad started carrying passengers, mainly tourists, into the heart of the Zittau Mountains of Upper Lusatia, a small but beautiful mountain range in a remote part of Germany where it borders Poland and Czechia. The East German government, the German Democratic Republic, really embraced the nation’s narrow-gauge railways (railways with a track narrower than the standard four feet, 8.5 inches) and even featured this line in a special series of postage stamps in 1983.
The fantastic little railroad starts at Zittau station, near the historic town center, which is itself a genuine jewel in Upper Lusatia. The narrow-gauge trains then go around the town, giving great views of the numerous historic buildings from the medieval and communist eras. Many of these structures have found new uses, for example, a former tank regiment barracks has been converted into a hotel to support the growing tourist industry.
The route then continues along the popular Olbersdorf lake, a recreation area based around a large flooded depression created by brown coal mining in the 20th century. The first stop, after about six miles, is the historic Bertdorf station, which has been preserved as close as possible to its original appearance. From here, you can choose between lines going to the village of Oybin or to the Jonsdorf health resort. Both routes take you through the absolutely stunning scenery.
If you continue your journey to Oybin, the train will stop just below the “Oybin Mountain,” really a large hill, which has some fantastic ruins of a castle and monastery located on the top. The charming health resort of Jonsdorf, with its many rustic timber-framed houses, is an ideal starting point for sporting activities.
Historic as it is, the Zittau narrow-gauge railway (Zittauer Schmalspurbahn in German) is not a fossilized heritage line, but genuinely a commercial, if very unusual, railroad. It is primarily used to transport both freight and passengers to and from Zittau into the mountains. While steam engines regularly operate on the line, you are likely to be hauled behind a relatively modern diesel train unless you book a special tour.
Know Before You Go
The railroad operator, the Saxon-Upper Lusatian Railway Company, offers a varied program of theme tours and special excursions. You can ideally combine a steam train ride with the sights and highlights of the Zittau Mountains nature reserve, or the historical sights at Oybin.
There are the usual range of tours aimed at the railway enthusiast, but that is not all. There is a “gourmet train” service from time to time where you can experience seasonal culinary delights while the evening scenery passes the train window. There are also music train tours (Dixie-style jazz or brass band) offered on the second Saturday each month during the summer.