Our Father who art in heaven…

They are ever-ascending, reaching towards the skies without ever stopping. Going up and up and up and never coming back down, again. Except that they are, of course. Right there, on the other side, not two meters to your left. Or your right of course, depending on the model. And also on whether you are inside or out. Mustn’t forget the point of view. I am talking, of course, about paternoster elevators. Those old-timey contraptions, where a chain of elevator cabins is strung together into a continuous loop, going around and around and around the building. The cabins only consist of three walls, the front is completely open. The only reason those things are no health and safety nightmares is that there are two handles in each cabin.


Still, they are pretty dickish solutions of the how-do-we-get-on-another-floor-without-over-exerting-ourselves-problem for the disabled, young children, the elderly and people who have to push around some push cart.

That is the reason no new ones are being built since the 70s. Wikipedia has told me that date, as it has a great many other things about paternosters, for example that there are about 230 still operating in Germany and that that is a remarkably large number (to wit, Wikipedia does remark on it).

I have taken a paternoster ride for the first time ever, the other day, and I am 30 years old. That is how big a number of 230 elevators is in a country of 80 million people. It is one of those things where you have always wanted to do something, but in the grand scheme of things it is insignificant enough that you do not actively seek it out. You make an effort to go to an amusement park. You make an effort to jump off a perfectly fine bridge with a flimsy elastic rope tied to your feet. You do not put effort into creating the perfect situation in which to say that one thing from the movies you have always wanted to say. Or writing down an O that happens to be a perfect circle.

So, imagine my joy when I overheard two government workers talking about the paternoster in their office complex. I was in that very same office complex! Oh joy, oh pure and childlike joy.

Then I got thinking. Well, on my third or fourth round trip, anyway. Whenever the topic of conversation comes to paternoster elevators (and isn’t it just, like, always?) someone will mention how you come down the other side upside down if you can’t manage to get out of the compartment on the last floor on your way up. Usually a scaredy-cat or a self-professed jokester trying to scare the scaredy-cat. That is nonsense of course, the cabins never turn upside-down, they are shifted sideways at the ends of their ascent and descent.


Here’s the thing, though: In that hypothetical scenario you always, ALWAYS, without fail, find yourself going up. Never down. Why is that? “When you go up a paternoster, all the way to the top, you will come down the wrong way around, eh? Eh? You know, because it just goes on. You have to turn around. Get it? Get it?” the never tiring jokester with material he (usually he is a he) has not updated in 40 years (if at all) will say. And when I got into that paternoster, the first thing I did was ride all the way to the top, get shifted over into the downward path and go down again. Even though I started on the 3rd floor and wanted to go down to ground level in the first place! Why won’t anybody ever first think about going down, around, and then up? Are there demons in the basement? Would it be too debasing? Do we have a complex system of biases and preconceptions beginning with associating ‘up’ with ‘good’ and ‘down’ accordingly and only getting worse and more complex from there? Does it feel better to come into the view of other people face first instead of feet first?

I was ruminating on all those deep, complex, philosophical and not at all silly questions when, on my 7th roundtrip, I suddenly noticed a large sign, saying in bold letters that the paternoster was only for the use of government employees. So I quickly hurried out on the ground floor, nearly hurt my left shin because paternosters are friggin’ deathtraps, and quietly made my way out of the complex.

Bottom line: next time you come across a paternoster elevator, ride around the bottom-end instead of the top one.

Have you ever taken a paternoster, regardless of direction? Tell me about it in the comments.


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