Tag Archives: steampunk

Streampunk Elevator (Lift)

The University of Leicester has one of these in its Attenborough Tower. In fact, it’s one of the few working examples left in Britain. Germany has several, mostly deployed in government buildings. For me, and all other Leicester students who came before and after, riding it was — and probably still is — a rite of passage. Many of the remaining contraptions have been mothballed due to safety fears and limited accessibility. What is it?


The paternoster — is a dual-shaft revolving elevator (or lift). Despite the odd name (from the Latin for the Our Father prayer, often recited while fingering through rosary beads on a looped chain), it’s a wonderful Victorian invention that needs to be preserved, and cherished. Oh, and do you wonder what happens at the top or bottom of the loop? Do you get crushed? Does the paternoster cabin emerge upside down, with you inside? You’ll have to visit and ride one to find out!

From the Guardian:

As the paternoster cabin in which he was slowly descending into the bowels of Stuttgart’s town hall plunged into darkness, Dejan Tuco giggled infectiously. He pointed out the oily cogs of its internal workings that were just about visible as it shuddered to the left, and gripped his stomach when it rose again with a gentle jolt. “We’re not supposed to do the full circuit,” he said. “But that’s the best way to feel like you’re on a ferris wheel or a gondola.”

The 12-year-old German-Serb schoolboy was on a roll, spending several hours one day last week riding the open elevator shaft known as a paternoster, a 19th-century invention that has just been given a stay of execution after campaigners persuaded Germany’s government to reverse a decision to ban its public use.

That the doorless lift, which consists of two shafts side by side within which a chain of open cabins descend and ascend continuously on a belt, has narrowly escaped becoming a victim of safety regulations, has everything to do with a deeply felt German affection for what many consider an old-fashioned yet efficient form of transport.

In the UK, where paternosters were invented in the 1860s, only one or two are believed to be in use. In Germany which first adopted them in the 1870s, there are an estimated 250 and there was an outcry, particularly among civil servants, when they were brought to a standstill this summer while the legislation was reviewed.

Officials in Stuttgart were among the loudest protesters against the labour minister Andrea Nahles’ new workplace safety regulations, which stated that the lifts could only be used by employees trained in paternoster riding.

“It took the heart out of this place when our paternoster was brought to a halt, and it slowed down our work considerably,” said Wolfgang Wölfle, Stuttgart’s deputy mayor, who vociferously fought the ban and called for the reinstatement of the town hall’s lift, which has been running since 1956.

“They suit the German character very well. I’m too impatient to wait for a conventional lift and the best thing about a paternoster is that you can hop on and off it as you please. You can also communicate with people between floors when they’re riding on one. I see colleagues flirt in them all the time,” he added, celebrating its reopening at a recent town hall party to which hundreds of members of the public were invited.

Among the streams of those who jumped on and off as tunes such as Roxette’s Joyride and Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator pumped out of speakers, were a Polish woman and her poodle, couples who held hands in the anxious seconds before hopping on board, a one-legged man who joked that the paternoster was not to blame for the loss of his limb, and Dejan, who rushed to the town hall straight from school and spent three hours tirelessly riding up and down. Some passengers were as confident as ballet dancers, others somewhat more hesitant.

Read the whole story here.

Video: Paternoster, Attenborough Tower, University of Leicester. Courtesy of inoy0.

The Allure of Steampunk Videotelephony and the Telephonoscope

Video telephony as imagined in 1910

A concept for the videophone surfaced just a couple of years after the telephone was patented in the United States. The telephonoscope as it was called first appeared in Victorian journals and early French science fiction in 1878.

In 1891 Alexander Graham Bell recorded his concept of an electrical radiophone, which discussed, “…the possibility of seeing by electricity”. He later went on to predict that, “…the day would come when the man at the telephone would be able to see the distant person to whom he was speaking”.

The world’s first videophone entered service in 1934, in Germany. The service was offered in select post offices linking several major German cities, and provided bi-directional voice and image on 8 inch square displays. In the U.S., AT&T launched the Picturephone in the mid-1960s. However, the costly equipment, high-cost per call, and inconveniently located public video-telephone booths ensured that the service would never gain public acceptance. Similar to the U.S., experience major telephone companies in France, Japan and Sweden had limited success with video-telephony during the 1970s-80s.

Major improvements in video technology, telecommunications deregulation and increases in bandwidth during the 1980s-90s brought the price point down considerably. However, significant usage remained mostly within the realm of major corporations due to the still not insignificant investment in equipment and cost of bandwidth.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Skype and other IP (internet protocol) based services have made videochat commonplace and affordable, and in most cases free.It now seems that videchat has become almost ubiquitous. Recent moves into this space by tech heavyweights like Apple with Facetime, Microsoft with its acquisition of Skype, Google with its Google Plus social network video calling component, and Facebook’s new video calling service will in all likelihood add further momentum.

Of course, while videochat is an effective communication tool it does have a cost in terms of personal and social consequences over its non-video cousin, the telephone. Next time you videochat rather than make a telephone call you will surely be paying greater attention to your bad hair and poor grooming, your crumpled clothes, uncoordinated pajamas or lack thereof, the unwanted visitors in the background shot, and the not so subtle back-lighting that focuses attention on the clutter in your office or bedroom. Doesn’t it make you harken back for the days of the simple telephone? Either that or perhaps you are drawn to the more alluring and elegant steampunk form of videochat as imagined by the Victorians, in the image above.