Endless elevator

Imagine an elevator with no doors that never stops: this is the paternoster lift.

Paternoster lift
Bettenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Between 1992 and 2009, thirty people in the United States died in a pretty horrific way: they stepped through an open elevator door and fell down the elevator shaft. Fortunately, modern safety mechanisms make this misfortune technically impossible. (Something called a door interlock prevents the elevator cab from moving if the doors are open – closing the doors completes the electrical circuit necessary for the cab to move.) But in Europe, mostly in Germany, there are hundreds of elevators with no doors at all.

The paternoster lift has been around for a hundred and fifty years. In essence, it’s a lift that never stops. Rather than responding to the press of a button and being directed to a specific level, this elevator is hop-on-hop-off. You stand at the opening and wait until a cab appears, then you jump on and let it carry you up or down. Inside the lift shaft, many cabs circle around in an endless loop. They move very slowly, but they never stop moving.

This style of elevator is actually very efficient. Many people can ride it at once – someone could be going from the first floor to the second at the same time as someone is going from the second to the third. But frankly, I find the prospect of this lift terrifying. What happens if your arm or leg sticks out of the cab?

Most countries have banned the construction of any new paternoster lifts, and they’ve also tried to shut down the existing ones. But in some countries – like Germany and the Czech Republic – nostalgia has kept the paternoster lift alive. The video below shows one in action in the Prague Town Hall, under the encouraging title “Riding the Elevator of Death”:

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

3 Replies to “Endless elevator”

  1. In some buildings in New York City, particularly those inhabited by or used by ultra Orthodox Jews, there is a Shannon’s elevator, which on Fridays runs non-stop stopping automatically at each floor upland then down. In this way, observant Jews can use the elevator without pressing any buttons.

    1. I’ve been meaning to write a post on the Shabbat elevators – a fascinating way of addressing such a tight religious restriction!

  2. One of these is featured quite regularly on the absolutely excellent German show (picked up by Netflix) “Babylon Berlin”, set in the 1920s.

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