Posts Tagged ‘Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus’

Paternoster Ride on your Bucket List?

Monday, September 11th, 2017


You have been on elevators, right? But have you ever taken a paternoster from one floor to another? If not, put it on your bucket list. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. Paternosters are rare these days, but not extinct. I used to ride a paternoster regularly to get to the cafeteria level in one of the Tempelhof Airport buildings in Berlin in the 1960’s. Since the repurposing of the airport, however, I doubt that the paternoster still exists.

What is a paternoster and how does it work?

A paternoster lacks most of the features we associate with elevators. It doesn’t stop to take on or drop off passengers. There are no doors. There are no buttons to push to select a floor. The ride is slow (generally one foot per second) to allow passengers to enter and exit.

So how does a paternoster transport people? A paternoster is a continuously moving type of elevator, which consists of a chain of open compartments that slowly move in a loop inside a building. The compartments wrap around like a chain. There are two side-by-side openings on each level. Potential passengers wait for the next compartment to arrive and step into or out of either the “up” or “down” side on any given floor. These endlessly looping lifts are slower than conventional elevators, but the movement never stops so that they are quite efficient. It takes some getting used to, but it is lots of fun to ride a paternoster.

Schematic representation of the functional principle of a paternoster (from wikipedia).

Schematic representation of the functional principle of a paternoster (from wikipedia).

History of the paternoster

The paternoster was invented in England. British architect, Peter Ellis, installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Liverpool in 1868, making him the father of the paternoster. The first true paternoster was installed in 1876 at the General Post Office in London. It was used to transport packages, not people. Then in 1882, British engineer, Peter Hart, developed a paternoster for people.

Paternosters were quite popular in the 20th century and were mostly located in government buildings and universities because passengers in these places are usually able-bodied adults. Getting on and off requires some concentration to avoid tripping or falling and associated injuries. Therefore, paternoster use is not recommended for the elderly, the disabled, wheelchair users or for children. There are also prohibitions against transporting loads with the paternoster. Today, most countries have banned the construction of new paternosters. However, public support for existing ones has helped keep the last few hundred of them operational.

Where does the paternoster get is name?

Initially they were called cyclic elevators. The name “paternoster” became popular because the arrangement of the compartments resembles a rosary. Paternoster compartments make a loop on a chain similar to rosary beads that are rotated by Catholics reciting prayers. Pater Noster literally means Our Father, which are the first words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.

Where can paternosters be found?

During the 20th century, paternosters became popular in Europe while never really catching on in the rest of the world. In recent decades, many paternosters have been dismantled. But a few hundred still exist, most of them in Germany. According to some estimates, Germany still has about 231 operational paternosters. Others can be found in Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. There may be only two paternosters left outside of Europe.

The oldest, operational paternoster is located in the House of Industry – a concert hall – in Vienna, Austria. The lift was built in 1910. No new paternosters have been allowed in Austria since the 1960s. The last publicly accessible paternoster can be found in the fashion shop Bayard in Bern, Switzerland. The Parliament building of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel has had an operational paternoster since 1950. And the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry, former House of Ministries, now Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin still has a 1982 paternoster. Although no new paternosters have been put into operation in West Germany since 1974, no such restrictions applied to East Germany. Since the Bundesfinanzministerium is located in a building that belonged to the former East Germany, its paternoster could be saved. However, it serves employees only. For safety reasons, they are were required to obtain a “paternoster drivers license” prior to using it.

Paternoster in the German Finance Ministry (Detlev Rohwedder Building) in Berlin, Wilhelmstr. 97. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, 2007.

Paternoster in the German Finance Ministry (Detlev Rohwedder Building) in Berlin, Wilhelmstr. 97. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, 2007.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



Detlev Rohwedder Building History

Monday, September 4th, 2017


These days, the Detlev Rohwedder Building (Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin is the seat of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry). However, the building wore many hats over the years and played a significant role in German history. The enormous office complex is located in the Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. If bricks and stones could talk, these walls would have interesting stories to tell.


Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005.

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005.

Along the Leipziger Strasse, the exterior of the building is embellished with a famous wall mural, designed by Max Lingner. The mural was created during the post-WWII years when Berlin was divided and the building was located in the eastern section of Berlin. The wall mural is entitled “Building the Republic” and depicts East German excitement over the new social and political order.

How large is the Detlev Rohwedder Building?

The Detlev Rohwedder complex consists of five to seven storied buildings. At the time of its construction (1935 to 1936) it was the largest office complex in Europe. German architect, Ernst Sagebiel, designed the neoclassicist project. Sagebiel also reconstructed Tempelhof Airport on a similarly gigantic scale.  The Detlev Rohwedder building has as reinforced concrete skeleton and an exterior facing of limestone and travertine. The stone came from no fewer than 50 quarries. Even today, The Detlev Rohwedder Building remains one the largest office complexes in Berlin. It houses more than 2,100 offices, contains 4.25 miles of corridors, 17 staircases, four elevators and three paternoster lifts. The complex has two wings, an Ehrensaal (Hall of Honor) facing Wilhelmstrasse, two large inner courtyards and a facility management yard. The gross floor area totals more than 1,205,000 square feet with almost 603,000 square feet of useable space.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the Nazi Era

The Delev Rohwedder Building initially served as the headquarters of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry). Four thousand bureaucrats and their secretaries were employed within its walls. The building played a central role in the war effort during World War II.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the East German Era

Miraculously, the building came through World War II with only minor damage. The exception was the Ehrenhalle (Hall of Honor). It underwent major expansion and remodeling to become a Stalinist-style Festsaal (Festival Hall). Until 1948, the building served as the headquarters for the Soviet military administration. From 1947 to 1949, the Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission (German Economic Commission) was located here. During that time, the building became known as the DWK-Building.

On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded in the building’s Festival Hall. Later, the complex served the Council of Ministers of East Germany and became known as Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). It was in this building that East German head of state, Walter Ulbricht, insisted in June of 1961 that “no one has any intention of building a wall.” The statement was made only two months before construction of the Berlin Wall began. As a seat of governmental power, the House of Ministries was also at the center of the East German people’s uprising of 17 June 1953.

Detlev Rohwedder Building since German Reunification

Following German Reunification on 3 October 1990, the building was used by the Berlin branches of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry) and by the Federal Court of Auditors. The Treuhandanstalt, an agency charged with privatizing the East German economy, occupied other parts of the building

The building was renamed the Detlev Rohwedder Building in honor of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, head of the Treuhandanstalt, following his assassination in 1991. In the course of the relocation of the German Government from Bonn to Berlin, the German Finance Ministry transferred its head office to Berlin. During subsequent reconstruction and renovation works the structure of the offices, stone facade and the mural by Max Lingner were preserved. Conference, press and visitor centers were redesigned and equipped with state-of-the-art conference technology.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of  Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.