The Paternoster

We were on our way to Lucerna Kavarna, a cafe in the Lucerna Passage when we found the paternoster.

Unprepared for such a discovery, we were forced to shoot with the video mode on our tiny point and shoot camera. Sorry for the shakiness.

Get Out!!!

If you ever come across a paternoster, you should ride it.

Of course, ours was behind a glass security door and not open to the public – residents of the building only, we assumed. But luckily for us, someone came out just as we happened to be looking in.

Without hesitation Amy lept through the closing door and held it open for me. I voiced a few syllables of resistance, but Amy’s disregard for rules rendered them useless. I followed her in.

I’m glad I did. The machine before us was incredible. We marveled at the tiny elevator compartments as they slowly passed – up on the right, down on the left. The rhythmic grinding of gears echoed throughout the corridor, and beckoned us clank by clank to step inside. What genius created such a brilliant yet crazy device?

Once inside, however, my sense of awe was overwhelmed by a feeling of impending doom. At some point, this thing had to go back down… and the mechanism for how that happened was not clear at the time. What if we missed the last floor? What if one of us tripped? What kind of bone grinding calamity awaited us if we didn’t maneuver this death trap just right? What lunatic convinced a building to install this thing!?

Did you happen to notice my nervous muttering throughout that video? Yeah.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

So what was it?

Wikipedia defines the paternoster as “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.”

They were invented in 1884 by a Londoner and became popular for a time in continental Europe. Wikipedia lists 17 active paternosters in the Czech Republic. Find out more fascinating details in the Wikipedia article.

Judging by the picture to the right, it’s likely we could have stayed on after the sign that said ‘Get Out!!!’ and been ok. But, as the Wikipedia article notes, at least one person in recent history was accidentally caught up in the drive chain during an ‘up and over journey’ in a paternoster.

I wonder if they were muttering nervously?


That is SO awesome! Thanks for capturing the experience on film for all us home-viewers! I wonder if they have those in the states anywhere…

I like that you tagged this entry “death trap”….
I’ve never encountered one of those before – and must say I never knew they existed! Adding that to my list of things to do in Prague… =)

Yeah my writing is getting a little sensational isn’t it? Deadly mushrooms, death trap elevators… I need to write about something more uplifting.

Pun intended.

Dennis  •   • 

My heart just leapt and my stomach just dropped – that made me nervous just watching!

Dennis just said, “With a name like “paternoster,” it sounds like it’s going to grind you up.” But don’t worry, Mummy. We’re both in one piece.

Amy  •   • 

I’m just glad you weren’t chomped up. And hey, isn’t the pater noster something in a Catholic mass??

Yep. More fun facts from Wikipedia: “…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.”

Dennis  •   • 

This comment thread contains pretty much everything I need to know about life, I think.

Amy  •   • 

Ooh, ooh. I know the answer to the last one! “Pater noster” is from the Latin mass. Like Amy mentioned on FB, it means “our Father” and is the start of the famous prayer “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Neat factoid: the playful magic words “hocus pocus” also come from the Roman Catholics’ Latin mass. There’s a part where the priest is saying “hoc est corpus meus” (i.e., ‘this is my body’), which sounds like “hocus pocus.” Some smoothtalking magician wanted to sound fancy, so he made up those magic words that sounded like something in the mystical mass. Sorry, I don’t know where “abracadabra” entered into the vocabulary of talent show wand-wavers.

Oh, Bryan and I road in a paternoster soon after we moved here. We thought it was super cool, but I will admit I was a bit freaked out too ;) I love that I now know these little tidbits about it’s name and all – thanks for sharing!

cute video! possible ignorant question alert: do they have two; one for up, one for down? since you’re not supposed to go all the way around and all…seems like people would prefer a lift up rather than down.

never mind! ignorant question answered by re-reading. a classic strategy. that’s what i get for checking things at work and waiting to comment until i get home.

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