A free exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first uprising during the Cold War in Germany is being presented at the University of Chester this week.
Films and artwork surrounding East Germany are being shown by the university’s staff and students from 14-24 June at the Storyhouse Cultural Centre in Chester.
Special guest Antje K will also participate in a Q&A session, talking about her life in East Germany and her emigration in the late 1980s.
Tanks on the Streets: The Uprising of 17 June 1953 in East Germany, tells the story of the demonstrations and presents work by art and design students inspired by the uprising.
The exhibition, part-funded by the German History Society, was curated by Dr Richard Millington, who is a senior lecturer and programme leader for German at the university and Steph Coathupe, one of the University’s artists in residence.
Four German films with English subtitles will be shown including:
- Espionage film For Eyes Only (1963) – which represents the East German response to James Bond,
- The Rabbit is Me (1965) – containing criticism of life in East Germany that the state was not prepared to allow and was banned soon after its release,
- The Legend of Paul and Paula (1973) – recounting a tale of love in East Berlin and,
- The Lives of Others (2006) – the story of the destructive operations and methods of the Stasi, the state’s political police, and a major hit upon its release.
The series of films were made in East Germany by the state’s DEFA film studios, offering people the chance to see what citizens were able to watch in East Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig.
“When one thinks of East Germany, images of barbed wire and the Berlin Wall spring to mind, as well as stories of the dreaded Stasi. Yet there was a lively – albeit state-controlled – cultural scene in East Germany. Though artists, authors, and film-makers were supposed to promote the Socialist Party line, they also aimed to entertain and, in some cases, test the limits of what the regime was prepared to tolerate.”Richard Millington (senior lecturer)
The first uprising
The first uprising took place from 16-17 June 1953, during the early Cold War, where demonstrations were held against the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the Government of East Germany. East Germany was a socialist dictatorship, formed after the division of post-war Germany in 1949, and existed until 1990.
The protests involved over one million people – arguing over poor living standards, working conditions and polices by the SED. In more than 700 cities, towns and villages protestors demanded the removal of the SED leader Walter Ulbricht.
Ulbricht’s policies were largely influenced by Stalin’s (Soviet politician), where people said his plans reminded them of many Nazi-era organisations. He was also controversial for expanding the size and power of the Stasi, which were the East German secret police. Within East Germany, the Stasi maintained files on an estimated 6,000,000 citizens, looking at their daily life, including intimate and personal relationships.
Ulbricht’s policies lead to food shortages increasing whilst the Government demanded increased production from its industrial workers. In some places, the demonstrations called for free elections and the reunification of Germany – which eventually took place between 1989 and 1991, establishing Germany as a single full sovereign state.
Protestors ransacked party buildings, beat up regime officials, tore down propaganda and burned Soviet flags however, Soviet trucks, tanks and armoured vehicles struck the protestors without warning on 17 June, wounding more than a hundred people. The demonstrations continued for several more days before dying out.
“Their actions were, however, short-lived: Soviet tanks and troops soon arrived to restore order. Protesters could offer little resistance to their machine-gun bullets. The next time East Germans dared to demonstrate en masse was 1989.”Richard Millington (senior lecturer)
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