A Piece of Peace at The Banks

The barrier that once divided East and West is now a symbol of unity along Cincinnati’s riverfront.

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

When the Berlin Wall separated East and West, the concrete barrier symbolized an obstacle to freedom. “It would be like if you suddenly had a wall around the center of Cincinnati. You can’t go to your office, you can’t go to your relatives,” says Ute Päpke, who helped bring a piece of the wall from Berlin to Cincinnati in 2008. “The wall represents a kind of slavery.” The dictatorship in poverty-stricken East Berlin erected the barrier in 1961 to stop citizens from seeking work elsewhere. People in East Berlin had no freedom to leave for 28 years. Today, the segment of the wall outside Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors those who died trying to escape. The east side of the wall faces the Ohio River, formerly a divider between freedom in the American North and slavery in the South. While this side is painted white, the west side showcases the original graffiti painted by artists protesting the block. Päpke hopes that the memorial inspires kindness. “If we are kind to each other, we cannot build walls around anyone,” she says.

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