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What happened on 17 June 1953 in East Germany that left a deep mark on divided Germany? Why have events on this day largely faded from British memory and how have Germans viewed the 17 June since reunification? These and other questions were the focus of Dr Richard Millington’s talk this March. The importance of 17 June 1953, as Richard explained, was that it marked the first show of discontent with the new Communist (SED) regime. First in Berlin, and then in other urban centres, workers took to the streets to show their anger at low wages, high quotas and food shortages. Looting, protests and random acts of violence followed in some areas.



The title of Richard’s talk – ‘Tanks on the Street’ – hints at the state’s response to the workers’ decision to lay down their tools. Soviet tanks were sent into the cities to break up the disturbances, as well as to provide a show of strength. After a few days, most of the disturbances petered out and people returned to their places of work. Yet, as Richard showed in the second part of his talk, the memory of the uprising persisted both in East Germany and in the West. Indeed, the Federal Republic made the 17 June into a national holiday in solidarity with the protestors and to show its opposition to its Communist neighbour. This was a fascinating talk and a great addition to our regular RKEI public lecture series. The talk was peppered with film clips and unique – rarely seen – photographs of the uprising, including of the tanks on the streets. In the autumn, Richard is planning a student-led art exhibition to showcase the history of the uprising so watch this space!

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