The socialist government of the GDR fixed the work quotas which had to be fullfilled by the workers. With the economic gap between east and west constantly growing as was the pressure on the eastern government. In May 1953 they decided to raise the work quotasby ten percent. Workers were to face pay cuts if they did not fullfill the new quota. On Wednesday June 16th the first workers started a strike against the new rules. The West took the chance to weaken the east german government by directing the eastern workers through the RIAS. As more people joint the strike a general strike was announced for the coming day. On June 17th about 100.000 workers had joined the strike in East Berlin but there were more protests throughout the GDR with over half a million people participating. The protesters did not only demand the quotas to be lowered to the old level but took the chance to make political demands, too. The uprising became violent when socialist party officials tried to stop the protests. Several buildings were set to fire the most famous being the Columbus HO-Shopping Centre in Berlin. There were first clashes between protesters and the east german police. The government took shelter in the Soviet Military HQ in Karlshorst. Martial Law was declared by the soviet Stadtkommandant Maj.Gen. Pawel T. Dibrowa and lasted until July 11th. Although at 2:00pm the eastern government declared lowering of the quota the uprising could not be stopped.
About 20.000 soviet soldiers reinforced by 8.000 men of the East German Militia were ordered to the centres of the uprising. There was little resistance against the soviet T-34 tanks which took to the streets of East Berlin. Probably the most famous footage of the uprising shows a man being run over by a soviet tank.
Until today the exact death toll is unknown. Officially 51 were killed not counting those who were sentenced to death later. A group of soviet soldiers which refused to shoot at unarmed workers was executed, too.
In memory of the uprising the part of the famous Straße Unter den Linden which lay in the western part of the city was renamed to Straße des 17. Juni. The day also marked a national holiday until it was replaced by October 3rd which marks the reunification of Germany.