Liverpudlians are very proud of their musical heritage. And rightly so, Liverpool has been coined ‘City of Pop’ by the Guinness Book of Records as its residents are responsible for producing the largest amount of number one records globally. This is even more remarkable considering Liverpool’s population is only under half a million (compared to, for example London’s 8 million inhabitants). Of course, the most famous of these residents are The Beatles and if you’re a fan you’ll revel in the number of touristy Beatles-related activities to do in Liverpool! I went full tourist-mode when I was there last autumn and did a fair bunch of them. More on that in my next post, first some general history:
Liverpool was not more than a small fishing town until the rapidly developing trade of enslaved people made the city a key harbour in the trade triangle: ships would first sail from European ports to the west coast of Africa. Here, people were purchased in exchange for goods. These people were then sailed to the Americas, where those who had survived the journey were put to work. Finally, the ships would take goods, produced by enslaved people, from the Americas back to Europe. After abolition, the port was still much used, especially as many ships full of emigrants to the US and Australia left from its docks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 70s and 80s, the city fell into decline as was the case in many post-industrial cities in the UK. However, in recent years there has been much redevelopment, especially in the waterfront area, which was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. Albert Dock was built in the 19th century and has now been completely refurbished, containing its very own Tate gallery, a Beatles museum, shops and restaurants.
My eye was immediately caught by the Three Graces that dominate the Liverpool skyline – the Port of Liverpool building, the Cunard Building, and the Royal Liver Building (see below), all constructed in the early 20th century. The cormorants on top of the Liver Building (the Liver birds) have turned into the city’s symbol, and it is said that if they ever fly away, Liverpool would cease to exist!
The river Mersey flows by Liverpool, and there are many ferries that can take you to the other side, a peninsula called The Wirral, while offering brilliant views of the Liverpool skyline. There are several interesting museums to visit on The Wirral. The impressive U-Boat Story is an exhibition centering on the left-overs of a German WWII U-boat.
The Germans very effectively used U-Boats (the ‘U’ stands for Untersee as in Unterseeboot), as they were the ideal platform to launch torpedos from. They used these submarines to block Allied shipments and obliterate as many ships as possible. The idea was that if enough shipments towards the UK could be stopped this way, Great Britain would have to surrender for lack of supplies. The U-Boat in Liverpool is called U-534, become active in 1942 and sailed around Norway, Greenland, the Azores, and France. It was mostly responsible for weather reporting, which sounds unimportant, but is in fact essential to planning military strategy. Towards the end of the war, most U-Boats were sent to Norway where they were ordered to surrender on May 4th, 1945. The U-534 was the last U-Boat to leave Germany. It most likely got this message, but continued onwards until it was shot down by an aircraft in the Kattegat. The wreck wasn’t discovered until 1986, and raised to the surface in 1993 (by a Dutch salvage company, Smit Tak, fyi), and brought to the UK in 1996. In 2008 it was transferred to Liverpool and exhibited there.
The wreck of the U-534 has raised some questions that are unlikely to ever be answered. For example, the U-534 had 3 of the fanciest new torpedoes on board, the Zaunkönig T-XI, of which only 38 were made. These torpedoes didn’t just find their target by aiming for the loudest or closest sound around, they could recognise specific sounds and target those. In other words, they could specifically target only merchant ships by recognising the sound of their propellers. Why would a weather reporting submarine have advanced weaponry like that? Furthermore, the fact that this was the last U-Boat to leave Germany has led some to believe it may have been used to smuggle precious cargo out of the country, such as treasure or a Nazi leader.
In my next post, I will finally get to my time in Liverpool as the worst of tourists: I did all The Beatles stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.