I am claustrophobic. I hate enclosed spaces – especially elevators. Whenever I have the chance – I try to take the stairs just to avoid being stuck in a metal death trap. It is worth noting that most American Elevators have an escape hatch – German ones do not. Just thought I would mention that here. Good thing that the Paternoster Elevator doesn’t have doors – makes getting out or being squished to death so much easier. Despite being relatively dangerous and virtually outlawed, The Paternoster still haunts the German Republic, waiting for daredevils to put their bravery to the test. How convenient that Berlin still has some of these elevators running, so I decided to pay probably one of the most famous Paternosters – the one in Rathaus Schöneberg – a visit.
*Warning Paternoster Info*
*First built in 1884 by the Dartford, England engineering firm of J & E Hall Ltd as the Cyclic Elevator, 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 beadsused as an aid in reciting prayers.
Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century as they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They were more common in continental Europe, especially in public buildings, than in the United Kingdom.
In 1974, West Germany banned the installment of new Paternosters. In 1994, the government wanted to push through a law to decommission all Paternosters but this was met with fierce popular resistance. The Bundesrat therefore changed to the proposed amendment, so that the existing Paternoster elevators (approximately 240 in Germany) could remain in operation.*
After an accident caused by improper operation, the Paternoster at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, is only allowed to be used by staff and students who have a Paternoster license – which is monitored by security personnel.
I remember riding a paternoster as a child in the Foreign Office in Bonn, the West German Capital – and I remember being terrified of stying in the lift too long and being flipped upside-down. Apparently Charlie Chaplin had the same fear. Now that couldn’t happen, but to be quite frank, until I looked it up for this article, I didnt have a clue how they worked.
We headed down to the Rathaus Schöneberg on a Saturday morning, the wind was making the -6C sting even more, so much so that even the fleamarket vendors in front of the Rathaus decided to pack up their things and leave. We hurried inside and decided to have a snoop around the City Hall.
The Reason why the Rathaus Schöneberg is so famous is because when Berlin was divided, it was the seat of the West Berlin Government, and because John. F Kennedy held his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech on its balcony. Not only did Kennedy hold his speech here, but the Rathaus also hosts the Liberty bell – a gift from the americans as a symbol of the fight for freedom and against communism in Europe. With a diameter of 2,80 meters and weighing over 10 tons, it is the largest bell in Berlin. Every sunday at 12 it rings – and if you are ever so inclined you can listen to it ring on the Deutschlandradio Kultur.
As we wandered through the completely empty Rathaus – we passed through deserted hallways and walked by the room where Kennedy held a meeting (or so the sign said). For some reason though we couldn’t find the Paternoster. For a moment I was worried that they had been replaced, but no, turns out we just got lost in the gigantic empty building. We found a map which conveniently showed us where the paternoster was and scurried over.
And we were greeted by this. Great.
So it seems like they decided to shut down the Paternosters here as well. I snapped a few pictures and continued strolling through the empty building – making the most out of the situation.
As mentioned above – the Rathaus Schöneberg hosts the Liberty Bell in a large tower. Theres an elevator which goes all the way up to the platform where you can have a look at the Bell and its inscription. Its closed. Back in 2009 when Tempelhof closed, they closed off the Tower (which is made of concrete and iron) because of “Fire saftey” reasons.
So unless you really want to see where Kennedy held his speech, enjoy some weird 1960s design flashbacks and look at an elevator which doesn’t work (technically it does) then give this one a miss.
You are better of just going to the Stasi Museum, enjoy some interesting history AND see the Paternoser there as well.
While I was in the Stasi Museum, I had a very interesting chat with one of the older ladies working there, and we discussed the whole Paternoster issue (much to both our delight), she gave me some interesting tips – so there might be hope just yet to visit/write about a working location. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for an update of this post!
The Paternoster / Rathaus Schöneberg
10829 Berlin, Germany
Public Transport: U4 Rathaus Schöneberg