David Charters - Daily Post
WITH his skilled hands and soaring imagination, the man with the modest smile could give life to a block of wood.
But nobody ever spoke of the gentle carver's greatest creations, even when they became one of the most potent symbols in the world - silent sentinels over a throbbing port, ever-watching the sullen-grey roll of the water below them.
Now, 50 years after his death, a forgotten and shunned German is to be remembered for designing the two birds which perch high on the Royal Liver Building, at the Pier Head.
A plaque in his memory is to be placed in the entrance hall to the building. It should be up in plenty of time for the celebrations of 2007, marking the 800th anniversary of King John granting Liverpool its Royal Charter, which provides the ideal lead into the following year's European Capital of Culture.
After all, we are talking of a European who made a huge contribution to Liverpool's recent history, though his name will not be familiar to many of you.
For most of the history books do not mention Carl Bernard Bartels, designer of the Liver Birds, known to people all over the world as the emblem of Liverpool.
Yes, New York has its Statue of Liberty, or Liberty Enlightening the World, the 150ft colossus of the sculptor August Bartholdi, placed on an iron framework designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also gave Paris its 984ft tower.
But the association between Liverpool and its birds is unique. They are on the crest of numerous companies and organisations, most notably Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Football Club.
It is impossible to calculate how much they would have been worth if they were a commercial brand - but think of a big number and then add noughts until you fall asleep.
More than all that, though, they were a vision of comfort to homeward-bound sailors. If the Liver Birds were on their perch, God must be in his Heaven. Their disappearance into the distance has swelled lumps in the throats of the thousands leaving the river, some never to return.
Of course, they weren't the port's first Liver Birds. But the design of the pair atop the Liver Building became the standard, copied by everyone else.
Their "father", Carl Bernard Bartels, was the son of Carl Julius Bartels, a wood carver from the Black Forest. The boy was brought up in Stuttgart and trained under his father, before coming to Britain in 1887 with his young bride, Mathilde Zappe. He was 21.
The couple immediately liked the country and decided to make it their home. They took up British nationality and settled in the London borough of Haringey, where they had a son, Bernard Charles Bartels, and a daughter, Maggie.
Gradually, their father was gaining a reputation as an exquisite worker in wood. Meanwhile, in Liverpool, in 1908, work began on the construction of the Royal Liver Building, designed by the architect Walter Aubrey Thomas. An international competition was held to find a design for the two birds which were to sit on its twin clock towers.
Carl won. His birds were made by the Bromsgrove Guild, a group talented in the Arts and Crafts movement which ceased to be many years ago. The famous building, in many ways similar to those in New York, was completed in 1911.
Three years later, the Great War broke out. Anti-German feeling swept through the UK. Yet, since the middle of the 19th century, Germans had been settling in Liverpool. Pork butchers from the Hohenlohe area, near Stuttgart, knotted their sausages. The fruity smells of baking pastries and the steam from sauerkraut joined the air of a city already rich in aromas.
Other Germans worked in the sugar refineries and public houses. But that did little to assuage the hostility of local people. In this mood, Bartels's blueprints and sketches of the Liver Birds were lost or destroyed.
Even more seriously, Bartels was interned with others of German origin in a camp at Knockaloe, on the Isle of Man, even though he had been a naturalised Briton for more than 20 years.
Conditions were harsh at the camp, but a spirit of camaraderie developed, particularly among the artists. In Liverpool, anger against the Germans reached its zenith with the sinking of the Lusitania, inbound to the port, in May, 1915. There were riots and German properties were stoned and looted.
After the war, Bartels had to return to Germany, though we are not sure why, leaving his family in London. To come back to his family in England, he had to find an employer, who would vouch for him. This was done.