Zittau: Historic city in the tri-border region

Medieval flair, beautiful mountains and internationality – all this and more can be found in the city of Zittau in the German state of Saxony. Situated on the border to two of Germany’s neighbours, it was designated as a “European City of Sport” in 2014. Despite its relatively small size, Zittau offers an enormous range of outdoor sports and activities.

by Lisa Tüch

View of the Zittauer Mountains from St. John’s Church © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau
View of the Zittauer Mountains from St. John’s Church . © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
259 €
A daytrip to the Tierpark Zittau.

Welcome to Zittau

The idyllic city of Zittau is located in a so-called “border triangle”, the place where three countries meet – in this case, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. The city lies nestled in the Zittauer Gebirge, the smallest mountain range in Germany. Here you’ll find untouched nature, perfect for hiking or cycling. You can enjoy a great view of the picturesque surroundings from the steeple of St. John’s Church.

View from the steeple of St. John’s Church  © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau
View from the steeple of St. John’s Church . © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau

Zittau was founded in 1255 and became wealthy through commerce and trade. Long ago, people used to call it “Die Reiche” (The Rich). Its most famous attractions include the “Large Zittauer Lenten Altar Cloth”, which is over 500 years old, and the “Small Zittauer Lenten Altar Cloth”. The large altar cloth depicts well-known scenes from the Bible and is on display in the museum of the Holy Cross Church. The small altar cloth can be found at a former Franciscan monastery which now serves as the City Museum.

Bird’s-eye view of Zittau  © Gerhard Große
Bird’s-eye view of Zittau . © Gerhard Große

Many of the tourist attractions in Zittau, like the monastery, are linked together by the Zittauer Cultural Walking Tour. On the tour, visitors are directed to the central square, the Marktplatz, where several old Renaissance- and Baroque-period buildings are located. Two of the most impressive are the City Hall and the Salt House. The Salt House is the central landmark in the historic part of town, built in 1511. On the ground floor, you will find shops and boutiques, as well as the “Markt zum Salzhaus”, a weekly market where vendors sell local products like sausages and handmade wooden articles. There is also a library in the Salt House.

Economically, Zittau is the administrative and shopping centre of the southern Görlitz district. Zittau also has a strong engineering sector and textile industry. The University of Applied Sciences in Zittau/Görlitz specialises in the areas of Energy and Environment and Transformation Processes in Business and Society. The university has partnerships with over 30 different countries. The activities at the International Institute Zittau are equally cosmopolitan. It was originally founded to promote cross-border learning in the form of master’s degree programmes. Students at the Institute can pursue a master’s degree in International Management, Ecosystem Services, Business Ethics, Biotechnology or Biodiversity. Some 300 students from more than 20 nations are currently enrolled at the institute.

Internationality is an important topic in Zittau due to its unique role as a bridge between nations at the heart of Europe. In 2001, Zittau established a municipal association together with the Polish city of Bogatynia and the Czech city Hrádek nad Nisou. The three cities jointly organise and host cultural festivals, exhibitions and sport events.

The Spectaculum Citaviae was first celebrated in 1999 © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau
The Spectaculum Citaviae was first celebrated in 1999 . © Thomas Glaubitz/Stadt Zittau

Living in Zittau

The summer months are an especially busy time in Zittau. That’s when the historical festival “Spetaculum Citaviae” takes place. When evening falls, Zittau transforms into a medieval city. Knights in regalia, jesters and merchants fill the streets.

My advice

At the Tierpark Zittau, you can take a ride on a camel or participate in a llama trek. The llamas will even carry your bags.

The cliffs Nature Reserve have fascinating shapes © René Pech/TGG Naturpark Zittauer Gebirge/Oberlausitz e.V.
The cliffs Nature Reserve have fascinating shapes . © René Pech/TGG Naturpark Zittauer Gebirge/Oberlausitz e.V.

When the weather is nice, you can take hiking trips into nature. The city is surrounded by the Zittauer Gebirge, a mountain range with beautiful sandstone formations. The rocks often have interesting shapes – like a turtle, for example. There are a number of hiking trails that will take you through the Zittauer Gebirge Nature Reserve. One of these is the “Kammweg” (Crest Trail) which crosses into the Czech Republic part of the way. You can also go cycling here, or skiing in the wintertime.

If you’re not in the mood for anything too strenuous, you can visit the Zittauer Gebirge via the narrow-gauge railway. The train will take you to Oybin where you can visit an old castle and monastery. In addition to the great view, the exhibitions there highlight the history of the castle.

The railway also heads in the direction of Olbersdorfer Lake, which has a beach, beach volleyball courts and a bike rental. Or you can simply relax in a wicker beach chair. The Westparkcenter, located nearby, is a good place to go when the weather is bad. You can play indoor tennis there, go bowling or treat yourself to a sauna and massage.

In the summertime, the Freilichtbühne Weinau hosts the Zittauer Film Nights, an outdoor movie programme. There are two other cinemas in Zittau, as well as the Gerhart Hauptmann Theater. Once or twice a month during the semester, the theatre offers students reduced prices on selected performances.

Of course, bars and clubs are a big part of student life in Zittau. The popular Mocca Bar is located in the annex of the Salt House. They host bands and serve great cocktails. Dance parties are held at Neo, Jam Dancebase and the StarClub. The Vinyl is a sports pub. Twice a month, you can try your hand at being a DJ, and Sundays, everyone gets together to watch the popular German crime series Tatort (“Crime Scene”) on TV. There’s also the Dezi-Bar down in the basement of Residence Hall D. The student-run bar is a great place to get to know other students at the dormitory. The Emil Association organises concerts, festivals and readings. You can find other party locations just 15 minutes away in the Czech town of Liberec. And for some fine Czech and Polish beer, we recommend going to Café Jolesch.

Zittau has even more to offer, such as public outdoor and indoor swimming pools and a variety of sport clubs open to enthusiasts of mountain climbing, billiards and table tennis. Zittau was named a “European City of Sport” in 2014.

Interview with Kristýna from Liberec, Czech Republic

Kristýna Hermanová is 22 years old and a fifth-semester student in the bachelor’s programme “Pedagogy of Early Childhood” at the University of Applied Sciences in Zittau/Görlitz.

Kristýna Hermanová © Private
Kristýna Hermanová . © Private

Why did you decide to study in Germany?

I started learning German in school when I was twelve. I had just changed schools and I didn’t know a word. It was embarrassing. I took private lessons and then things got much better, and I became the best in the class. I took German courses and became more interested in the language. My dream was to someday study in Germany, move here and get married. I haven’t found a husband yet, but everything else has come true.

How did you prepare for your stay abroad?

As a foreigner, I couldn’t simply apply for admission to a degree programme in Germany. I first had to complete a foundation course because I didn’t have the necessary certificates. I attended the course here in Zittau.

How did you find a place to stay?

I live in a flat share. I found it through a real estate agency. The service at the real estate offices works really well. So there’s no reason to be worried. You just have to start looking for accommodation early, that’s the main thing.

Could you imagine staying and working in Germany after your studies?

I’m here so that I can work and live here. But I would like to live somewhere along the German-Czech border so I’m not so far away from all my family and friends.

What do you like best about Zittau?

Olbersdorfer Lake is my favourite place in Zittau. After classes, you can take a nice walk along the river and then relax at the lake. Aside from that, I like the historic downtown of Zittau.

What’s the best way for international students to get in contact with other students?

At our university there are lots of programmes and events where first-time students can meet many different people right at the beginning of their studies. During the programme, there’s always something going on, concerts, sport events and parties. My advice is not to be afraid, and don’t stay at home. Just go out and talk to people. It doesn’t matter how well you can speak the’s easier to learn with friends.

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