Jonsdorf, a cute little village located in the Zittau Mountains known as a Luftkurort – literally an “air spa”, is a town that has been declared a health resort for its good air and climate which are considered beneficial for the relaxation, restoration and health of its visitors. These locations are awarded this title after being approved by the state which also means that the city or town can charge overnight guests a health resort tax.
The Zittau Mountains are the German part of the Lusatian Mountains which are in the far southeast of Saxony and cross into Czechia. Part of the western Sudetes, the mountains are primarily composed of sandstone and the highest peak is the Lausche at 793 m (2601 ft). There are several towns in the Zittau Mountains that are well-known to tourists, among them: Oybin and Großschönau, which I have visited and written about previously.
According to legend Jonsdorf was founded in the early 1500s by a shepherd named Jonas, a monk who came from the monastery in Oybin. The first sandstone quarry was established here in 1580 and they began to produce millstones, large round stones used for grinding grain. These millstones were exported to places as far away as England and Russia. The production of these millstones continued in Jonsdorf until 1917.
Construction began on a church in Jonsdorf in the year 1731 as the village expanded. The structure is a simple hall church with a surrounding cemetery. After living here a while, I’ve seen a lot of churches and many of them start to look alike. For that reason I always try to find something unique about each church that makes it stand out from the others. What I noticed about the church in Jonsdorf were these really unique looking woodcuts depicting the Passion of Christ. Woodcut is a relief printing technique in which the artist carves the image into the surface of a block of wood, leaving ink only on the flat, raised parts. The expressionist style woodcuts in the church in Jonsdorf are by the artist Hellmuth Muntschick who was born in Radeberg in 1910. An opponent of National Socialism and a pacifist, he created the woodcuts while he was a Wehrmacht soldier in WWII. He fell in the Soviet Union in 1943.
In 1841 a man named Karl Linke opened something called a Kaltwasseranstalt in Jonsdorf, a hydrotherapy cold water cure house. This was the beginning of interest in Jonsdorf as a tourist destination. Hydrotherapy is an alternative medicine that uses water for therapeutic purposes. In Jonsdorf you will find several locations where you can, for example, tread water (Wassertreten). These shallow pools are a form of hydrotherapy where you walk through cold water. You are supposed to walk “like a stork”, taking large steps to ensure that only one foot is in the water at a time. This is meant to improve the circulation. This therapy, also known as the “Kneipp Cure” is named after its inventor, Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest and naturopath. Believing that all diseases originate in the circulatory system he also recommended taking ice cold baths and walking barefoot through the snow. Some of his famous clients included the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Pope Leo XIII. Naturally, my German husband volunteered to demonstrate how the foot bath worked.
In 1890 a narrow-gauge railway connected Zittau and Jonsdorf, making the village more accessible to tourists. The railway continues to operate today with historic train cars and steam engines and also makes stops in Olbersdorf, Bertsdorf, and Oybin.
The most important sites in Jonsdorf are of course the interesting sandstone rock formations and the mountains surrounding the village. The sandstone rocks often have curious shapes and their names reflect the imaginations of the people who first settled here. The most famous are the Nonnenfelsen, a rock formation 537 m high which to the residents at the time, looked like a couple of nuns in their habits. The best starting point for reaching the Nonnenfelsen is at the Hotel Gondelfahrt in Jonsdorf. From here it’s a relatively short hike with bridges and steps carved into the stone. At the top you’ll find a restaurant and a lovely view. Another interesting rock formation that we saw during our stay was the Falkenstein, a stand-alone rock located right by the border to Czechia that resembles a falcon. From the rock you have a view of the highest point in the Zittau Mountains, the Lausche.
Another thing that makes the village of Jonsdorf so attractive are its Umgebindehäuser. Dating back to the 17th to 19th centuries, these buildings are typical to the Upper Lusatian area and are characterized by their distinct architecture – a supporting wood frame with vertical and horizontal beams embraces the ground floor, and the upper floor rests on this frame.
The village of Jonsdorf ticks a lot of boxes for me: fresh air, views of the mountains, easily accessible hiking paths, as well as beautifully restored historic homes and a steam engine train. While I may not have been completely sold on the cold water foot bath, I definitely believe that a stay in Jonsdorf can be very good for your happiness and general well-being!