Saturday, September 11, 2010
Riding A Paternoster, And Living To Tell The Tale
I am fascinated by a device called a paternoster.
If you're reading this in the United States, you probably don't have the foggiest idea what I'm talking about. That's because paternosters don't exist in the U.S., as far as I know, because they are a lawsuit waiting to happen.
A paternoster is an elevator made up of a series of constantly moving shelves. Passengers don't push a button to call the elevator. They simply wait for the shelf to move even with the floor they're standing on and then step into the paternoster. They then ride the paternoster to the floor they desire, and then simply step off. Being careful to time it right so the entrance to, or exit from, the paternoster is smooth and graceful.
The shelves then continue up -- usually passengerless -- and then change direction in some dark, cobwebby corner of the building, and then continue their journey down. It's an endless loop. (Ostensibly, you can stay on the paternoster while it makes its transition from up to down, but warning signs in bright red urge passengers to disembark.)
It's easy to misjudge the speed of the paternoster and either step on or off too early or too late. If you're elderly or a kid or pushing a baby carriage or just not paying attention, you're toast. Take the stairs.
There are more than 100 paternosters scattered around Eastern and Western Europe and Russia. But their numbers are dwindling due to numerous injuries and, yes, even deaths blamed on paternosters. According to Wikipedia, five people were killed while riding paternosters between 1970 and 1993.
A few days ago, I rode a paternoster in the Pasáž Lucerna -- an old indoor mall, of sorts -- in central Prague. I filmed my ride and put together a little narrated film of my experience.
I hope you enjoy it.