German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself grew up in East Germany, said the peaceful revolution leading to German reunification finished what began in 1953. “If we look at the brutal end to the 1953 uprising we can judge just how courageous the people in East Germany were in 1989 to go on the streets for a free and united Germany,” Merkel said.
Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the violent protests sparked in the communist eastern half of the city should serve as reminder that Germans shouldn’t take their democracy for granted.
“It’s our duty to careful with our democracy, to keep it vibrant, and to defend it against its enemies,” Wowereit said in a speech at commemorations of the uprising in Berlin on Tuesday.
The eastern German city Dresden announced on Tuesday it would commemorate the victims of the uprising with a memorial on its Postplatz square showing the treads of a Soviet T34 tank that rear up to a height of 1.70 metres. Nearly 10,000 people gathered on the square in 1953 to take over a telecommunications office.
The protests by workers in East Germany in spread rapidly around the country, causing the communist regime to request help from the Soviets to squelch resistance. More than 100 people died as Soviet tanks and East German police faced down largely unarmed East German demonstrators.
At least 1,600 of the over million demonstrators across East Germany were imprisoned for taking to the streets from June 16 to June 21, 1953. At first construction workers went on strike demanding the regime retract unrealistic labour demands, but they were quickly joined by other East Germans calling for greater democracy and the release of political prisoners.
The Social Democratic parliamentary Markus Meckel told German broadcaster ARD on Tuesday too few Germans were familiar with the events of June 17, 1953. “That’s why we need appropriate means to educate – we need a different type of public remembrance,” he said.