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Unique European Elevators

Europe boasts some of the world’s most interesting elevators for transporting both people and vehicles.
AquaDomThe AquaDom is a transparent elevator inside an 82-foot-tall aquarium at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Berlin-Mitte, Germany. The aquarium is filled with 260,000 gallons of seawater and 1,500 fish from 50 species. Three or four divers feed the fish 18 pounds of food per day.

Autostadt silosNext to Volkswagen’s main factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, are the Autostadt silos, a group of several 200-foot silos that serve as a parking garage for cars fresh off the assembly line. A conveyor belt carries cars down a half-mile underground tunnel to the silos. An automated elevator picks up a car from a conveyor belt and uses an extension to place it into an open parking space. Buyers can pick up their new cars with the odometer reading zero.

The Strepy-Theiu Boat Lift in Le Roelux, Belgium, is the tallest in the world, with a 240-foot difference in elevation between the upstream and downstream entrances. It was completed in 2002 after being under construction for 20 years. The boatlift has over 100 suspension cables to keep the caissons, the water-filled tubs in which the boats are transported, stable. Four electric motors control eight winches and pull the 32 control cables that raise and lower the caissons. The boat lift is capable of moving up to 8,400 tons.

Santa Justa LiftThe Santa Justa Lift in Lisbon, Portugal, is a neo-Gothic municipal elevator designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, an apprentice of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who designed the tower that bears his name. The elevator was powered by steam when it was built in 1902, but it is now run by electricity. The lift still has its original birdcage-style doors and ornate wooden interiors. Portugal declared the elevator a national monument when celebrating its centennial in 2002.

The Trampe Bicycle Lift in Trondheim, Norway, is the world’s only bicycle elevator. It was built in 1993 to promote cycling in the city. Passengers place an outstretched leg on a moving footrest to ride the 426-foot-long lift up a hill at a 20-percent gradient at a rate of almost five miles per hour.

Hundreds of paternoster elevators exist across Europe and Scandinavia. The “cyclic elevator,” invented by J.E. Hall in 1884, consists of about a dozen small, open compartments that continually loop between floors, carrying up to two people at a time. The elevators got their commonly used name, “paternoster,” from “Our Father,” the first words of the Lord’s Prayer, because some people believed they resembled rosary beads.

Falkirk WheelThe Falkirk Wheel in Falkirk, Scotland is the world’s only rotating boat lift. It transports boats between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. The 10 hydraulic motors turn the wheel every eight minutes, while the diametrically opposed caissons rotate at the same speed in the opposite direction, which keeps them level. It takes only 30.2 horsepower to operate the 600-ton machine.

The Louvre Elevator in Paris is an open-topped, hydraulically-powered apparatus. It rises between a winding staircase and transports museum visitors smoothly and quietly to an automatic slide-out walkway at the top.

The Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire, England, is one of the oldest surviving boat lifts in the world. It was originally constructed in 1875, shut down in 1983, and was restored in 2002. Hydraulic rams raise and lower the caissons to lift boats to the Trent and Mersey Canal or lower them to the River Weaver.

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