If you’ve travelled through some of the more historical office and government buildings in Prague, you might have come across a dangerous-looking elevator that doesn’t have a door, nor does it stop at each floor as it passes by.
That would be the paternoster, which moves in a continual loop as passengers brave enough to step onto the doorless cubicle can board once the platform is within stepping range, and disembark when it brings them to their floor.
Here’s one of Prague’s paternoster elevators at work, located at the Lucerna passage off of Wenceslas Square:
It certainly looks dangerous, in any event, when one imagines the kind of carnage that might befall a stray limb should it get caught between the lift and a floor.
But most paternosters are equipped with security features that should prevent that from happening. The individual parts of the elevator give way should anything become trapped in them, and immediately stop the lift from continuing its journey.
If you don’t make it off the elevator by the time it reaches the top floor, don’t worry – you won’t actually be crushed to death in the gears as the lift makes its way back around.
Here’s a short video explaining just how paternoster elevators work:
Still, paternosters are not without controversy.
In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into a paternoster shaft in The Hague, Netherlands.
A 1990s AP story reported “at least” five deaths since 1970.
Since the 70s, regulations throughout Europe have prevented the construction of new paternosters in most countries, including the Czech Republic.
While no recent incidents have been reported in the Czech Republic, in 2006 a tourist travelling on the Lucerna paternoster panicked and got a limb stuck in the lift, which halted the mechanism. The tourist was fine, but the paternoster was shut down for months.
A refurbished paternoster in Prague’s New Town Hall was recently unveiled after a three-month reconstruction that cost an estimated 3.5 million crowns.
It’s estimated that around 50 paternoster elevators are still in use across the Czech Republic. A full list of locations can be found on Wikipedia.