Joho the Blog » Old-fashioned elevators

Old-fashioned elevators

I built up on my nerve and successfully used the old-fashioned elevator at the hotel I’m at in Frankfurt. It’s a continuous, and continuously-moving, loop of open cubicles, large enough for two skinny people, or one American. No waiting, no doors. You step in as an empty compartment approaches and hop out as it moves past your floor.

The clerk assures me that there have been no injuries, although it seems easy to hurt yourself: mis-time your exit and you will be part way between the elevator and the floor as the elevator moves on. I’m surprised the lobby isn’t littered with severed arms and torsos split cleanly in two.

On the other hand, I only got in once the clerk assured me that if I panicked and was unable to force myself to hop out, it doesn’t turn the compartments upside down at the top of the loop.

Damn thrilled-crazed Europeans!

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25 Responses to “Old-fashioned elevators”

  1. They’re called “Paternosters” in German, Dave, a reference to their endless loop. They were common as mud in the former East Germany, and I was always delighted to ride them when I was living in Berlin after the wall fell. It was fun to see secretaries hopping in and out in high heels.

    I once was privileged to see an all-Paternoster dance performance. The “frames” of the cabins going by made the experience very film-like.

    They’re now illegal in Berlin for safety reasons. I can’t believe there’s still one left in Frankfurt!

  2. What, no photos?

    Had to resort to Google: http://images.google.com/images?um=1&hl=en&q=Paternosters+Elevator+Germany&btnG=Search+Images

  3. Wow. I am traveling quite a lot in Germany, but I never was lucky enough to stay in one if these hotels.
    What is the name of this hotel?
    You are talking about Frankfurt/Main – the one with the airport – and not about Frankfurt/Oder – the one at the border to Poland?

  4. It’s in the Fleming’s Hotel near the Eschenheimer Tur.

  5. Thank you for reminding me of one of my favorite short stories, Heinrich Boell’s “Murke’s Collected Silences”, which opens:

    “Every morning, after entering Broadcasting House, Murke performed an existential exercise. Here in this building the elevator was the kind known as a paternoster – open cages carried on a conveyor belt, like beads on a rosary, moving slowly and continuously from bottom to top, across the top of the elevator shaft, down to the bottom again, so that passengers could step on and off at every floor. Murke would jump onto the paternoster but, instead of getting off at the second floor, where his office was, he would let himself be carried on up, past the third, fourth, fifth floors; he was seized with panic every time the cage rose above the level of the fifth floor and ground its way into the empty space where oily chains, greasy rods, and groaning machinery pulled and pushed the elevator from an upward into a downward direction; Murke would stare in terror at the bare brick walls, and sigh with relief as the elevator passed through the lock, dropped into place, and began its slow descent, past the fifth, fourth, third floors. Murke knew his fears were unfounded: obviously nothing would ever happen, nothing could ever happen, and even if it did, it could be nothing worse than finding himself up there at the top when the elevator stopped moving and being shut in for an hour or two at the most. He was never without a book in his pocket, and cigarettes; yet as long as the building had been standing, for three years, the elevator had never once failed. On certain days it was inspected, days when Murke had to forgo those four and a half seconds of panic, and on these days we was irritable and restless, like people who had gone without breakfast. He needed this panic, the way other people need their coffee, their oatmeal, or their fruit juice.”

    [Here it is in Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=nASykWVMNyAC&pg=PA495&lpg=PA495&dq=Murke%27s+Collected+Silences&source=web&ots=pD1k8RxxjY&sig=cHezItpwwSrAp_TJ6s7Rf0kLWVs&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=8&ct=result ]

  6. There are a bunch of videos of these elevators on YouTube. Search for ‘paternoster’. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paternoster

  7. There was also this type of elevator in operation during the late 80’s on an Army installation. The building was the old Abrams building on the Abrams complex in Frankfurt, Germany. The building if i recall right was a major weapons depot for the Nazi’s during World War II and was taken over by the Americans. Not really sure of the history but i definitly remember the elevator but not a stairwell. Thought it was the coolest thing.

  8. The elevator at Abrams -Frankfurt Germany, I rode it all the way to the top, it slid over and came down and when I rode it to the bottom, it slid over and came back up. It was indeed cool. Thanks Terry Miller for bringing back my early 80s memories of that building. Do you remember when they had nickel slot machines in the building next door. I think that’s where the cafeteria was at.

  9. I was at the Abrams building in Frankfurt several times from 1991 to 1993 an I rode this horrible elevator several times, but I opted for the stairs most of the time. A soldier was killed on this elevator in 1991 and it really scared me when I saw the yellow tape. She had wet boots on and slipped and fell and got caught and it crushed her head an body. So, I really think they need to re-consider the paternoster and it’s safety. My gut told me the first time I saw it to stay away. It just looked foreboding. But I have often wished I would have done more research on the actual Abrams building while I was there to know it’s Hitler history, but I was young and stupid back then.

  10. Oh my…I was stationed at Gibbs Kaserne and worked at the Abrams building in 1978. I rode that darn paternoster for 2 long years and was filled with dread each and every time! I can’t tell you how many times I missed my floor and had to ride the darn thing around again! Thanks for the memories … I think!

  11. There is one in operation still in the town hall of Stuttgart as well. It has a huge sign saying that it is forbidden to ride over on top or at the bottom. As a kind I never dared try because i thought it really would flip.

  12. I was stationed at gibbs kasern,in the 302 mi bn.we used to go to the abrams complex .we had a com center in the basement.I rode the elevator dozens of
    times .the first time I saw it I was nervous though.I
    was there from 1988 to 1992 I remember A female
    soldier was killed in 1991In the elevator.

  13. Just curious as I googled my name and this Joho blog came up. I was looking at the comments made after mine, and It’s so interesting to know that other people feel the same as I about the foreboding poternoster at the Abrams Building. I miss those days, and hope I get to go back to Germany to retrace my steps and visit all those places i missed while stationed there.

  14. I was in the 284th Mp Co. at Gibbs Kaserne in the 70’s, and for one month replaced the 509th (I think that was the unit) guarding the Abrams Complex. First time I rode the paternosters was definately an experience. Thanks for the memories:)

  15. Sorry, liza took so long for a reply, no i don’t remember the slot machines. I was only a teen and not allowed to play them had i known. Was tempted by the beer vending machines though, i rode that paternoster numerous times unsupervised with no problem. My mom would have kicked my had she known. But hey that was a time when kids could be kids. Your welcome for the flashback liza! The building is actually no longer occupated by americans and the Military installations were ghosttowns and probably demoed by now.
    My dad was SSgt. Miller of the 509th i think, maybe 259th, not sure but i remember the great vending in Germany.

  16. I was stationed at Gibbs Kaserne from May 1970 to December 1972, although after I made Spec.5 in about a year I was allowed to live off base. Nevertheless, I was still attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Co., Special Troops battalion, V Corps Support Command, at Gibbsand had to return in a hurry there from my job at the I.B. Farben building anytime the V-COSCOM or V Corp general called an “alert.” My office was in the annex of the Farben Building, which required me to use the paternoster several times a day. I was sorry to learn a soldier was killed while using it in 1991. I always thought it looked dangerous but fortunately there were no incidents while I was there. There was, however, an attack on the main building by the Baader-Meinhof gang, an attack that killed a lieutenant colonel. I was only a block away when the pipe bombs went off, about to enter my German class at the University of Maryland campus. I served with a lot of great people and have many fond memories of my time there.

  17. Sorry, that’s I.G. Farben Building, which was named after Gen. Creighton Abrams some years after I returned to the states.

  18. I was stationed at Gibbs from 1973 to 1975 and remember the paternoster at the I.G. Farben building also. I was in V COSCOM and my office was located right by the first floor paternoster. I remember when CID and other various “spy” agencies were on the upper floors. If you didn’t have the right security clearance tag hanging from your neck, you couldn’t exit and were forced to go over the top and down. I have many many memories of Gibbs, Farben, “shit park”, concerts, etc.

  19. Hello Chuck K,

    You and I share similar memories. I Imagine the term “shit park” was known by generations of U.S. soldiers who were stationed for awhile at Frankfurt. Concerts were awesome. Johnny Winter once ran right off the stage and landed smack on top of me. This was at some concert hall in Frankfurt where there was no formal seating — everybody just squeezed in wherever they could. Winter was way late and tried to make up for it with a grand entrance. But he misjudged where the stage ended. He recovered and performed for about two hours. … I remember the super secret agencies on Farben’s upper floors. I seem to remember locked, metal gates barring access from the paternoster. Maybe they had their own secret elevator.

  20. I am very interested in memories of US Army and dependents in Germany.
    I think it was a unique experience. I am very interested in “Shit Park”.
    I have heard there is a plaque there now to all the addicts that were there.
    I cannot find any info about it on the internet. The german government did a study in the late 1980s when they arrested everyone and opened shooting galleries.
    The US side has been very silent.

  21. I use to play on the “paternosters” in the Abrams Building in Frankfurt, Germany from 83-86 while my Father was stationed there. I use to love them. They were creepy though.

  22. Shit Park was a day scene where Turks and German dealers competed in the free market to sell hashish, LSD, Cocaine and meth to American GI’s and other drug users. This was the drug culture of the seventies. Youth were invincible. Drugs were cool then and escapism was part of the cultural norm.

    You’re a young American GI serving in Germany. You are from where ever in the United States. In the early years of the seventies, it seemed that most GI’s had smoked pot before enlisting in the army. In Germany, they switched to smoking hash and many GI who never smoked started smoking. In the evening, in the barracks, to smell the exotic scent of hash was common.

    Drugs had changed German youth cultural too. You saw this best was a park west of Eschenheimer Turm south of Bochenheimer Anlage. Once, the old city of Frankfurt, was surrounded by a wall encircling it. Construction of the wall started in 13466 and it took one hundred years to build. This defensive wall had sixty towers built over gates, Eschenheimer Turm being one of the last three remaining gated towers. Today, there is nothing left of the wall. There is a serries of small parks that encircle the city of Frankfurt like a necklace of green jade in the summer. Shit park was one of these parks boarding Centeral Frankfurt.

    From Gibbs you simply crossed the street, got on streetcar thirteen and took a 20 minute ride where you got off at Opernplatz near the old opera house in Frankfurt. It was still in ruined from being bombed in 1944 in 1973. By just walking ten minutes you entered Shit Park Frankfurt’s open air drug market were ten dollars bought five grams of hash.

    As you walked past drug dealers in the park you heard “ZeroZero”,” black Pak” and “cookie.” Sometime you would hear “trips” for LSD. There was Mandrax (mandies), what were called Quaaludes, ludes or 714’s back in the world or the US.

    You saw hash dealers breaking pieces of hash from 100 or 250 gram plates of hash that looked like big chocolate bars. If you were a pot smoker from the states who once though Panama Red was exotic, this was like being in an open air candy store. Were you bought hash from thickly accented sellers, which you bartered with for the best deal. You had to watch out for dealers trying to rip you off or scam you. This wasn’t a place to trust people.

  23. Thank you, Mike. Its been 38 yrs since I was in Frankfurt. I remember going to Shit Park, it was behind the Opera House.
    The experience was very unique. It was considered the most notorious drug markets in Europe.
    I find it difficult to get people to talk about it.
    The Army certainly doesnt, wont even acknowledge it.
    The Germans have written about it.
    I read 80 percent of the people who hung out there have Hep C.
    I met kids there (as young as 14) from Paris, Ankara, Instanbul, allover Germany, Italy, etc… mingling with American “kids” Gosh, we were only 19 yrs old!
    I know this totally off subject, but this is the first time I have ever SEEN the term Shit Park written about. Thanks!!
    I saw kids openly shoot heroin on the park benches.
    I remember the Polezei going in and out of there, but nothing ever really happened.

  24. 74 to 76 went to shit park 100 times though wife and I lived in Aschaffenburg co D 9th Engineer,s have fond memories chocker red new a good hash conection named Blondie if he is alive 70+…..

  25. Yes I also was there at the Farben building 69 and RPC 76 just to the rear of Farben behind the Terrace Club. I do remember Shit Park. There was a night spot in downtown Frankfurt that many drug users hung out. It was called Club 51 or some number that I can not remember. There were strob lights and black light posters on the walls. When I was stationed in Heidelberg there was a place called Club Storyville where drug dealers from all over Europe came to make the big deals. The Club was one of Hitlers old tank tunnels in the side of the mountains there. Had three levels to it underground. I still have my club card from 1971. Wish there was a way to post it here. Those days are just fond memories gone by. Miss them. Frankfurt has really changed I guess for the better.

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