When most of us think of elevators we think of the standard boxed elevator with the sliding doors, tower of buttons and out-of-sight cables that this box delicately hangs on. Across Europe and Scandinavia however, there exists a special type of elevator, which has only recently been fighting for its survival – The Paternoster.
Unlike the elevators we are used to in the UK, The Paternoster is in continuous motion. Cabins without doors, big enough for only two people, follow a continuous loop up and down. Users of the lift have to time their steps on and off as there are no buttons to call for it to stop – unless in an emergency – as they travel between floors. The Paternoster is still thought highly of in Germany as people feel it suits the German character of not having the patience to wait for an elevator, a fact that perhaps explains why it has not been taken up so keenly in the UK.
The Paternoster resembles the way rosary beads are continuously passed through the hands when a Catholic prays. Which is how it also gets its name. Paternoster is translated from Latin to mean ‘Our Father’. Like the rosary beads the paternoster machine clicks away tirelessly as it follows its circuit diligently. You may also need to say a little prayer when stepping on and off.
Unfortunately The Paternoster is an easy target for health and safety. In the UK we don’t see Paternosters used at all anymore and countries that still use them, such as Berlin, find that they are only being saved through protestors who find the Paternosters personality something they would surely miss were it to go. The Paternosters ground to a halt whilst local authorities in Germany decided if they were deemed safe enough to continue use, causing outrage amongst local citizens who claimed that it slowed down their working day dramatically.
Reports on where the first Paternoster was installed are sketchy. The machine itself was designed by the Liverpudlian architect Peter Ellis in 1860. In 1876 the General Post Office in London installed one, which is said to be the first in the UK, but Ellis installed one in the Oriel Chambers in Liverpool eight years prior to this.
The paternoster is still thought of affectionately where it can be found. With some people skipping in and out of the boxes with lightness of foot whilst others hesitate. Children are known to ride The Paternosters all the way round to test famous myths that if you ride all the way to the top you will be flipped upside down and come down the other way on your head: a myth made famous by Charlie Chaplin.
Certain companies still specialise in lift maintenance for different styles of elevators. So whilst people still fight for The Paternoster it can still be found in certain buildings across Europe and Scandinavia.