the Danish Parliament’s paternoster

Earlier this month, my family and I took the free and excellent tour of the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen. There were many serious insights to be gleaned about parliamentary government, unicameral legislatures, multiple-party systems, and the cultural norms that prevail in Scandinavia, such as egalitarian informality.

But I write not to share insights; I write to relate an anecdote. Although the embedded sideways video is not mine, it shows part of the same tour that we took. The machine in the background is a “paternoster”–like an elevator except that the doors remain always open and a sequence of boxes passes by continuously. You have to jump on and off. Characteristically for Denmark, this contraption is considered too dangerous for tourists and reporters, but MPs and their staff can ride it. As the guide notes, this makes it a good refuge from journalists (who otherwise are allowed everywhere in the parliament building, at will).

The guide–or one of his colleagues–once explained to some Danish 7th-graders that the paternoster goes up, over, and down. That means that if you ride it up on the left, soon you will be coming back down on the right, still standing comfortably upright. The oldest Member of Parliament at the time, who was also a minister in the government, heard this explanation as he rode up. A few seconds later, down he came on the left–standing on his head.

It is fairly hard to imagine this happening in the US Capitol.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.