A fascinating documentary drama about the 17th June 1953 in East Germany – 50 years after the first national uprising in the former Soviet sphere of control. An elaborate television movie with a star cast of actors and this year’s high point in contemporary history programmes of the ZDF.
With the death of the dictator Stalin as prologue, the 105-minute film shows the background, the progress and the violent suppression of mass protests that threatened to plunge the SED regime into chaos only a few years after the foundation of the GDR.
This film gives a face to the still unknown heroes of the uprising: the construction workers of the Stalin Allee and the other protesters from East Berlin, whose rebellion spread like wildfire.
The authentically reconstructed scenes set in the centres of power in East Berlin and Moscow, in the sheds, factories and on the roads of the GDR are closely intertwined with eyewitness interviews and previously unknown original film footage. They allow a deep insight into an event that was guarded as a state secret and tabooed by the communist regime until its final fall.
Well-informed staff of the governments and secret services in Moscow and East Berlin reveal that the crisis was close to a global political escalation. Egon Bahr, Klaus Bölling and other former employees of the American radio station RIAS report how surprised the West was by the events and that they were fearing the cold war could turn hot.
“Der Aufstand” reveals the dramatic interplay between the revolutionary enthusiasm and courage of the insurgents and the stability of the cold war based on state-division and graveyard peace: beginning as a spontaneous workers’ protest with economic demands, but turning literally overnight into a political uprising for freedom and the overthrow of the SED dictatorship.
Guido Knopp, head of the ZDF’s Contemporary History division, states: “The essential difference to the revolution of 1989 was that in June ’53 the Soviet tanks rolled in, whereas they remained in their barracks in the fall of ’89. But for a moment the people had forced the regime to the brink of a final defeat. That gives a certain importance to the 17th of June in the brief history of German national uprisings.”
Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, Author and Director: “For me, the 17th of June used to be a date whose importance was mainly dictated by external and subsequent interpretation: very pleasant for us in the West, honouring it with one more bank holiday, nonetheless an ideological reflex. It was only during the preparation of the film that I really understood the true dimension of the events. And now I admire not only the performance of my actors, but even more so that of the people they portray, the East Berlin workers.”