Love of Germany’s Paternoster elevators trumps worries about safety

Safety be damned. Germany’s just-imposed restrictions on its controversial but beloved Paternoster elevators seem destined for an early demise.

Germany’s Cabinet ministers decided Wednesday to recommend ending the new limitations, less than a month after they went into effect. The reason: public outcry over rules that require anyone wanting to step onto the elevators to have gone through a training course.

Most buildings, faced with having to post guard on every floor to make sure no untrained person was stepping onto the conveyances, decided just to turn them off.

In the days before the new rules went into effect June 1, Germans flocked to buildings equipped with the Paternosters for a last chance to ride one.

Now it seems likely riders soon will again be able to use the lifts, which have been in use in Europe since the second half of the 19th century, but whose operation – riders step on and off the conveyance while it’s moving – made many squeamish.

The Cabinet’s recommendation still must be endorsed by the German Senate. Media reports say that’s likely to happen in early July, and the restrictions should be gone by August.

Officially called “Personenumlaufaufzug,” or cyclic people-elevator, the Paternoster (or Our Father), takes its nickname from its perceived resemblance to rosary beads slipping through the fingers. The contraptions consist of small, doorless boxes attached to cables in side-by-side pairs – one up, one down – and are in constant motion in an elongated loop. There are no call or floor buttons. Riders wanting to go to another floor simply step on as the box passes by.

The repeal of the restrictions will allow public buildings to put the machines back in use.

In a nod to safety, the Cabinet recommended that building operators post notices informing the public, and employees, of the risks posed by the machines.

“Paternoster is the VW Beetle of elevators,” said German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles. “Not many people still use them, but those who do love them.”