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Germans Fight to Keep Paternoster Elevators

Legislation in Germany that would have banned the use of traditional paternoster elevators was defeated after a public outcry. The new workplace safety regulations said that paternosters could only be used by employees who had received training in how to use them safely.


A paternoster is a doorless elevator that consists of two side-by-side shafts with a series of open cabins that go up and down continuously. Passengers step on and off as the elevator approaches a floor. The name paternoster refers to prayers that Catholics say while passing a string of rosary beads through their hands, similar to the perpetual motion of the cabins through the shafts.


Paternosters were invented in the United Kingdom in the 1860s and introduced in Germany in the 1870s. Just one or two are believed to be in use today in the UK, but it is estimated that 250 are still in use in Germany. A ban on new paternosters was enacted in West Germany in 1974 due to safety concerns, disability access regulations, and the costs of maintenance.


Paternosters are now found mostly in government buildings, town halls, and police departments in Germany. When they were banned, it sparked an outcry, especially from civil servants who use the elevators in public buildings where they work.


Officials in Stuttgart were some of the most outspoken critics of the legislation. The paternoster in Stuttgart’s town hall has been in operation since 1956. Hundreds of members of the public were invited to a party to celebrate its reopening.


Many Germans have an affection for paternosters. They have been incorporated in theater and dance performances, classical concerts, speed dating, political canvassing, films, literature, and podcasts. They are popular because they have been around for a long time and are reliable.



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