Paternoster lift

A paternoster (/ˈptərˈnɒstər/, /ˈpɑː-/, or /ˈpæ-/) or paternoster lift is a passenger elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers can step on or off at any floor they like. The same technique is also used for filing cabinets to store large amounts of (paper) documents or for small spare parts.[1] The much smaller belt manlift which consists of an endless belt with steps and rungs but no compartments is also sometimes called a paternoster.

Paternoster animated.gif
A paternoster in Prague
Paternoster elevator in The Hague, when it was still in operation

The name paternoster ("Our Father", the first two words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin) was originally applied to the device because the elevator is in the form of a loop and is thus similar to rosary beads used as an aid in reciting prayers.[2]

The construction of new paternosters was stopped in the mid-1970s out of concern for safety, but public sentiment has kept many of the remaining examples open.[3] By far most remaining paternosters are in Europe, with 230 examples in Germany, and 68 in the Czech Republic. Only three have been identified outside Europe: one in Malaysia, one in Sri Lanka, and another in Peru.[4][5]


Peter Ellis installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers in Liverpool in 1868.[6] Another was used in 1876 to transport parcels at the General Post Office in London. In 1877, British engineer Peter Hart obtained a patent on the first paternoster.[7] In 1884, the engineering firm of J & E Hall of Dartford, Kent, installed its first "Cyclic Elevator", using Hart's patent, in a London office block.[8]

The newly built Dovenhof in Hamburg was inaugurated in 1886. The prototype of the Hamburg office buildings equipped with the latest technology also had a paternoster. This first system outside of Great Britain already had the technology that would later become common, but was still driven by steam power like the English systems.[9][circular reference]

The highest paternoster lift in the world was located in Stuttgart in the 16-floor Tagblatt tower, which was completed in 1927.[9][circular reference]

Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century because they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They were more common in continental Europe, especially in public buildings, than in the United Kingdom. They are relatively slow elevators, typically travelling at about 30 cm per second (approx. 1 ft per second), to facilitate getting on and off.[10]


Paternoster elevators are only intended for transporting people; accidents have occurred when paternosters were misused for transporting bulky items such as ladders or library trolleys.[11] The risk involved is estimated to be thirty times higher than conventional elevators; a representative of the Union of Technical Inspection Associations stated that Germany saw an average of one death per year prior to 2002, at which point many paternosters were made inaccessible to the general public.[11]

The construction of new paternosters is no longer allowed in many countries[which?] because of the high risk of accident for people who cannot use the lift properly. In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster in the Dutch city of The Hague.[12] Elderly people, disabled people, and children are the most in danger of being crushed or losing a limb.[13]

In September 1975, the paternoster in Newcastle University's Claremont Tower was taken out of service after a passenger was killed when a car left its guide rail at the top of its journey and forced the two cars ascending behind it into the winding room above.[14] In October 1988, a second non-fatal accident occurred in the same lift. A conventional lift was installed in its place in 1989–1990.[citation needed]

In West Germany, new paternoster installations were banned in 1974, and there was an attempt to shut down all existing installations in 1994.[7] However, there was a wave of popular resistance to the ban at that time, and to another prospective ban in 2015.[7][15] As of 2015, Germany has 231 paternosters.[7]

In April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and standard elevator doors to alleviate safety concerns.[16][17] A prototype was revealed as of February 2013.[18] In 2009, Solon received special permission to build a brand new paternoster in its Berlin headquarters.[19]

Surviving examplesEdit

Many paternoster lifts have been shut down, but there are surviving examples still in use:[20]


  • In Vienna, the Rathaus (city hall) and the Ringturm (headquarters of the Vienna Insurance Group) have the last two running and frequently used paternosters in the city. The university also had one or more.
  • In Klagenfurt, the Headquarters of the energy company Kelag still have one paternoster active for daily use.


  • A paternoster lift dating from 1958 survives in Avenue Fonsny 47, Brussels, a currently disused office building forming part of Midi/Zuid railway station.[21]
  • At the Huis van de Vlaamse Volksvertegenwoordigers (House of Flemish Representatives), previously the Postcheque Building, at Leuvenseweg/Rue de Louvain 86, the paternoster is operational but not used.

Czech RepublicEdit

  • Prague City Hall has an early 20th century paternoster renovated in 2017.[22]
  • In Prague, Czech Technical University - Faculty of electrotechnical engineering at Technická 2, Dejvice
  • In Prague, Charles University - Faculty of Law
  • In Prague, Ministry of Transport (Czech Republic) head office
  • In Brno, Brno Technical University - Faculty of mechanical engineering at Technická 2896/2.
  • In Most, Business centrum, tř. Budovatelů 2957
  • In the offices of Czech Post at Brno railway station, (returned to use in 2013, after being out of service for six years)[23]


  • In the Christiansborg Palace where the Danish parliament resides
  • At vognmagergade 8. Today the building is used by KVUC - Københavns voksenuddannelsescenter (Copenhagens adult-education center)
  • In the corporate office building Axelborg, located in central Copenhagen
  • In Frederiksberg Town Hall


The following locations have paternosters:

  • In Turku, Town hall in Yliopistonkatu 27
  • In Helsinki, in the office building at Hämeentie 19
  • In Helsinki, at Eduskunta, the parliament of Finland at Mannerheimintie 30
  • In Helsinki, in Stockmann, Helsinki centre at Aleksanterinkatu 52, accessible to staff only


  • In Kiel, the State Parliament building for the state of Schleswig-Holstein has had a working paternoster since 1950.[24]
  • In Berlin, the offices of the formerly communist newspaper Neues Deutschland contain a working paternoster (as of 2020), while those of the conservative tabloid Bild contain a 19-storey paternoster[7] that is still in use but not open to the public.[25] The Rathaus Schöneberg, including scenes with its paternoster elevator, were used to film the TV series Babylon Berlin.[26]
  • In the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin another paternoster is in use.
  • In Hamburg, the building at 25 Deichstraße, Speicherstadt, has an operating paternoster, the Bezirksamt at Grindelberg 62–66 in Eimsbüttel also has a working Paternoster.
  • In Cologne, the building at Hansaring 97 has a working and in-use paternoster.
  • In Frankfurt, the former IG Farben Building has running and frequently used paternosters.
  • In Jena, a paternoster is in use at the headquarters of Jenapharm.


  • In Jahn Ferenc hospital in Budapest.
  • In Miskolc, the University of Miskolc, has a working and in-use paternoster.
  • In the central office of National Tax and Duty Administration Budapest.


In the Netherlands, seven paternoster lifts could be found in 2012, some of which were still operational:

  • In the former Ziggo building at Spaarneplein 2, Den Haag: no longer in use. (Stork Hijsch 1922, conversion 1976 Starlift, damage repair 1999 Schindler.) On 13 April 2012, a fatal accident occurred when an 81-year-old man was trapped between the lift and the wall.[27]
  • At the Dudokhuis, Tata Steel Europe in Ijmuiden: shut down in 1999. (Eggers Kehrhan, 1957):
  • In the HaKa building (the old head office of the Coöperatieve Groothandelsvereniging 'de Handelskamer') on the Vierhavenstraat in Rotterdam. This 1936 Hensen-Schindler lift has been operational again since the end of 2011, although the building is empty. For safety reasons, the lift can only be visited with the building manager. The lift can be put into operation for interested parties on request.
  • In the former tax office on Puntegaalstraat in Rotterdam; it is put into operation during Heritage Days, but may not be used. To enforce this, gates have been built across the entrances. (Backer and Rueb Breda, 1948, conversion December 1975 by De Reus BV.)
  • In the former post office on the Coolsingel in Rotterdam: disused.
  • Two examples in the Scheepvaarthuis (now Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam) in Amsterdam: working, can be used on request. (Roux Combaluzier, 1928.)
  • In the old school building on the Mauritskade in Amsterdam: whether the elevator is still working is unknown.


  • In Wrocław, Poland, Santander Bank building, Main Square. Available for employees only.



  • In Bratislava there are at least 5 operating paternosters: Ministry of Transport and Construction, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and headquarters of Railways of the Slovak Republic,[28]
  • In Košice, Technical University of Košice operates paternoster in the main building called L9 since 1972. There's another paternoster in an administrative building of U.S.Steel Košice, steel manufacturing company in Košice.

Sri LankaEdit


  • In Sweden there is at least one functional Paternoster lift at HSB-huset, Kungsholmen, Stockholm

United KingdomEdit

  • The Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield[29] has a paternoster, which is said to be the largest in Europe. It has 38 two-person cars and serves 22 stories. A journey between two floors takes 13 seconds.[30]
  • On 8 December 2017 it was announced that the paternoster in the Attenborough tower at the University of Leicester which was constructed in 1968–70 would be taken out of service as maintenance had become too expensive. This was duly put into effect shortly afterwards.[31][32][33][34]
  • In the late 1990s a paternoster was still in use in a building on King Street, Manchester occupied by a branch of the Natwest bank.[citation needed]
  • Agenda 2020 - The Albert Sloman Library at the University of Essex on the Colchester campus has a working paternoster.[35]
  • Birmingham Polytechnic (now City of Birmingham University) had a paternoster in the 1970s, but the building closed in 2018.
  • Birmingham Dental School.
  • At the University of Birmingham, both the main library and the Muirhead Tower had paternosters. The library was demolished in 2017, and replaced with a new library. The paternoster in the Muirhead Tower was closed for many years before a major refurbishment added two new lifts.
  • Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, North West London (part of the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust) has the last working paternoster in London.[36] It had been out of commission for many years until July 2020, when it was reopened for staff use.[37]
  • London School of Economics The Clare Market Building had a Paternoster until it was demolished in 2015[38]

United StatesEdit

  • The parking garage at 450 Sutter in San Francisco, California has a device similar to a paternoster called a "Humphrey manlift". It has small platforms the garage employees stand on to travel between floors of the garage, but no enclosed cabins.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

The paternoster lift at Amsterdam police headquarters in Marnixstraat is frequently seen in the Thames Television television detective series Van der Valk, shot between 1972 and 1992.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Paternosterkast". Bertello. Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  2. ^ "Paternoster, n." Oxford University Press. 8 March 2010.
  3. ^ Bertrand Benoit (25 June 2015). "Is It Time for Germany's Doorless Elevators to Move On?". WSJ.
  4. ^ Michele Lent Hirsch. "Ride This Bizarre, Old-School Elevator Before They All Shut Down". Smithsonian.
  5. ^ "PatList". Archived from the original on 13 February 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  6. ^ "In the Footsteps of Peter Ellis". 15 October 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e Benoit, Bertrand (25 June 2015). "Is It Time for Germany's Doorless Elevators to Move On?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Hart's Cyclic Elevator Mansion House Chambers - J. and E. Hall". The Engineer: 61. 26 January 1883.
  9. ^ a b "Paternosteraufzug".
  10. ^ Strakosch, George R. (1998). The vertical transportation handbook. Wiley. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-471-16291-9. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b "Paternoster: Aufzug mit Charme und Risiko". Focus. Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 10 October 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  12. ^ "Dodelijk ongeluk liftschacht was op reünie" (in Dutch). ANP. 14 April 2012.
  13. ^ "This elevator can be hazardous to your health". The Associated Press, in The Times-News. 9 July 1993. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  14. ^ Knight, V (1 June 1980). "The Paternoster Lift". Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 194 (1): 131–138. doi:10.1243/PIME_PROC_1980_194_016_02.
  15. ^ Kate Connolly (14 August 2015). "Lovin' their elevator: why Germans are loopy about their revolving lifts". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  16. ^ Staedter, Tracy (June 2006). "Lifts in Loops". Fast Company (106). p. 35. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  17. ^ "Development of basic drive technology improve innovative transportation capacity of the elevator "circulating multi-car elevator"". News Release (in Japanese). Hitachi. 1 March 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2010.Google translation
  18. ^ "Circulating Multi-Car Elevator System 'Exponential increase in carrying capacity'". Hitachi. 25 June 2013.[dead link]
  19. ^ Fairley, Peter. "Life's a 'Paternoster' (and then you fly)". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  20. ^ Flemming, Wolfgang. "Liste laufender Paternoster (List of ongoing paternosters)" (in German). Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Prague City Hall paternoster". 24 April 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  23. ^ izi (4 August 2013). "Na poště se znovu rozběhl starý páternoster" [At the post office runs again the old paternoster] (in Czech). Česká televize.
  24. ^ "Landtag SH - State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein". Archived from the original on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  25. ^ Dullroy, Joel (23 January 2017). "Going Up: Berlin's surviving Paternoster elevators". Blogfabrik.
  26. ^ "Im Aschinger".
  27. ^ Dodelijk ongeluk liftschacht was op reünie,, 14 april 2012 (ANP-bericht)
  28. ^ "Paternostery – päť ukrytých pokladov Bratislavy". 14 November 2011.
  29. ^ "The largest Paternoster elevator in the world -".[permanent dead link]
  30. ^ University of Sheffield (21 December 2017). "University of Sheffield's paternoster lift still going strong". Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  31. ^ Hayward, Jo; Cambell, Gordon (23 June 2015). "Paternoster University of Leicester". BBC Radio Leicester. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  32. ^ Chilver, Katrina (9 December 2017). "Why students say university 'death lift' must be saved". leicestermercury. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  33. ^ Chilver, Katrina (8 December 2017). "Historic Attenborough Tower Leicester University lift to be removed". leicestermercury. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  34. ^ "University closes rare lift 'with a heavy heart'". BBC News. 13 December 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  35. ^ Taylor, Paul (30 August 2015). "University of Essex: Silberrad student centre review – the future imperfect revisited". The Observer.
  36. ^ "Top 10 Lifts in London". Londonist. 10 November 2011.
  37. ^ Anonymous (23 July 2020). "Paternoster lifts hospital's spirits". London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  38. ^ Anonymous. "LSE Blog".

External linksEdit