Wednesday, 26 February 2020
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Love with a thrill

Travel in a paternoster once! An evergreen wish.

Loved in the WDR - the paternoster. (Source: WDR)

“Once I took the tram with my sister and cousin to the Hansa high-rise building in Cologne,” recalled an aged native of Cologne, “at the end of the 1930s.” It held a highlight for our children’s hearts: a paternoster lift. “We got in when no one was looking.”

“It went up 15 storeys and it was then at the latest that the adventure began. “We stayed inside – that was forbidden – it got dark, the rumbling was tremendous, we sensed the horizontal movement, our hearts stood still.” Then the salvation: it went straight down and got light again. A fantastic thrill. “My father introduced us to this fun,” revealed the contemporary. Adults also loved to use the paternoster.

Travelling in a paternoster is inspiring

The same scene 40 years later. “We had to smuggle ourselves past the porter, we loved to ride around in little groups of 12-year olds,” related a lift industry expert. “The paternoster squeaked, in the attic and cellar faint lights gave off a pale yellow light, always accompanied by the fear that someone was going to switch off the lift.”

Travelling in a paternoster is inspiring. The cyclic passenger lift has even found its way into world literature. Heinrich Böll, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has the protagonists in his story “Murkes collected silences” use the paternoster in the Cologne Broadcasting House as a daily ritual, including the round trip, out of love of the excitement. “He needed this fear like others their coffee, porridge or fruit juice,” Böll wrote. “Then when he jumped out of the lift on the second floor, he was happy and relaxed.”

Lost none of its fascination

To this day this antiquated means of transport has lost none of its fascination. Tourists and school classes queue to be able to take a ride in publicly accessible town halls; in some places the forbidden trip across at the top and bottom is regarded as a test of courage. In the mid-1990s an “Association to save the last paternoster” was even founded in Munich.

The paternoster also remains a beloved institution in the WDR Broadcasting House referred to by Böll. “It’s part of the WDR,” according to its press officer. The broadcaster has also established a radio interview series that takes place exactly there. In the “WDR 2 Paternoster Talks” people speak to each other in the paternoster in its special atmosphere, close to each other, surrounded by noisy squeaking and rumbling. Quite unmistakable.

Bettina Heimsoeth

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