“In Escalating Battle, Germans Step Up for Doorless Elevators,” by Bertrand Benott. The Wall Street Journal, 6/26/2015.
Paternosters are small continuously moving, open elevators that you just step onto. They move slowly enough for this to be possible, and are only built for two. There are many compartments on a single pair of cables, so as one disappears through the ceiling, another comes up from the floor. The two directions are side-by-side, one continuously going up and the other continuously going down. This YouTube link shows one in actual use. (A first-time rider in the article tells us how dangerous it is and even calls it the “elevator of death,” although he rides it without incident.)
I have never seen a paternoster, and if anyone has, I would like to hear more about them. They were popular in the early twentieth century, but many have since been removed because of safety concerns. Most that still remain are in Germany whose people value individual responsibility.
A few exist in other countries. The one shown in the photo below is in Prague. The name, Latin for “Our Father,” comes from its resemblance to rosary beads. (Great sense of humor by somebody.)
Attempts to outlaw them have been periodic, but each attempt has been defeated by outcries from defenders. The defenders have a point. They say the paternoster’s obvious dangers teach people to be aware of their surroundings and to always be careful, don’t act stupid, a lesson sadly lacking in our overly protected society. You would not want to hop on one while distracted by your cell phone conversation, but if you think they are too dangerous, don’t get on. Use the stairs where I am sure many more accidents occur. Paternosters are simple, practical, and avoid the annoying wait for an elevator that never seems to arrive.
Many defenders of paternosters have used them safely and conveniently for years. They say banning them outright would be like banning automobiles because of the occasional accident. Or banning stairs.