Speaking of iconic images of the West German student movement, this is one of the most famous photos in the history of the Federal Republic. The student lying on the ground is Benno Ohnesorg, who has just been shot dead by a West Berlin police officer on 2 June, 1967. The woman cradling Ohnesorg’s head is Friederike Dollinger, at the time a history student and now a schoolteacher in Munich (the taz had a nice story about her a couple of years ago). The students had been protesting against a visit to West Berlin by the Shah of Iran.
The first chapter of my book opens with a description of the death of Ohnesorg. It’s not very original but is still probably the best place to begin the story of the radicalisation of the post-war generation in West Germany – as much because of the way it was interpreted and mythologised as because of what actually happened. One of the three left-wing terrorist groups that grew out of the student movement actually called itself the 2 June Movement.
It recently emerged that Karl-Heinz Kurras, the police officer who fired the fatal shot, was at the time a Stasi agent. There’s been a lot of discussion in Germany since then about whether this fundamentally changes the story of the 1968 generation. I agree with a historian friend of mine who said it “says more about the history of the Stasi and the West Berlin police than about the history of the student protests”.