Thanks to a generous gift from the City of Berlin, Germany, a section of the Berlin wall Will have a permanent home in the City of Cincinnati. The Berlin Wall section arrived in Cincinnati recently and is being placed in a landscaped mini-park near the main entrance of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Berlin Wall Memorial will stand as “an enduring symbol of the triumph of freedom over oppression.”
IN 2004 the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened its doors a few steps away from the northern bank of the Ohio River. The site was chosen in acknowledgment of the river’s role as a line of demarcation for runaway slaves escaping the South to free Northern states. Since its opening, the Freedom Center has shed light on many slavery issues, but it has also hosted a number of exhibits, conferences and lectures devoted to the concept of freedom for all, including issues of modern day slavery. The permanent Berlin Wall Monument will be a perfect fit for a museum dedicated to “justice and freedom for all people.”
Remembering The Wall
As the Berlin Wall was torn down over 20 years ago, younger generations may find it difficult to envision the wall’s significance as a symbol of oppression. Popular video snippets have boiled it down to John F Kennedy’s 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech at the Rudolph Wide Platz near the wall and Reagan’s 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate where he insisted Gorbachev “tear down this wall!”
Years before the Berlin Wall separated Communist East Berlin from its Western counterpart, the city was divided by ideologies. The Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic governed East Berlin while America, Great Britain and France shared control of the post war West. Economic and political conditions forced a growing number of East Berliners to defect; and by 1961, an estimated 1500 East Berliners a day were fleeing the city.
To stop the escapes, the German Democratic Republic made an historic decision; and within 24 hours GDR construction crews had torn up streets, erected barricades, placed tanks at key locations and suspended subway and railway services, halting all East-West travel including an estimated 60,000 daily business commuters. The German Democratic Republic had created what they later dubbed an ‘anti-fascist protection wall,’ keeping East Berliners in and everyone else out.
From Barbed Wire to Concrete
The reinforced concrete segment you will see if you visit the Berlin Wall Monument at Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is from the final version of the Berlin wall. The original wall consisted of 96 miles of barbed wire, which proved ineffective at stopping escapes. In 1962 a second barbed wire wall was built parallel to the first. This construction created a 100 yard gravel ‘death strip’ with booby traps and trip wires and an unobstructed view for guards to shoot escaping East Berliners.
Concrete was added to the wall in 1965; and in 1975, a final version was constructed with 45,000 separate 12 foot high sections of mesh reinforced concrete topped by smooth metal pipe. The Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) also included anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, watchtowers and bunkers. These elements made escaping difficult, but did not end all attempts.
Pieces of the Wall
Despite Reagan’s now famous 1987 plea to tear down the wall, the Berlin Wall remained in place. It was still standing strong in November 1989 when the East Berlin government finally agreed to open its borders for ‘private trips abroad.’ Over subsequent weeks of celebration, Berliners began tearing away chunks of the wall that had separated East from West for nearly 30 years. On October 3, 1990, the East/West Berlin reunification was formalized, allowing the two cities to become one again.
Since then, pieces of the Berlin Wall have made their way around the world, with many individuals claiming ownership to small chunks of the wall. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Berlin Wall Memorial will join a number of formal Berlin Wall exhibits across the United States, including 7 presidential libraries.
“Freedom Without Walls”
The Munich Sister Cities Association and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will officially dedicate the Berlin Wall Memorial on July 3, 2010. Even if you don’t have time to tour the entire museum, the memorial is outside and well lit, making it a perfect family stop as you arrive or leave a Reds Baseball or Bengals Football game.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located in Downtown Cincinnati at 50 East Freedom Way (Between the Reds and Bengals Stadiums)
For additional information, see the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Website.