4 January: For the first time in the Soviet Union, there is detailed reporting on an ecological catastrophe: the Soviet magazine "Ogoniok" reports that excessively large hydraulic engineering projects have caused the water level of the Aral Sea to sink so dramatically over the past decades that large tracts of land are now barren and salty. Since the start of the year, passports are being issued in Hungary with which Hungarian citizens can travel to the West without a visa.
12 January: During a state visit to Poland, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher meets with the leader of the banned Polish union "Solidarity", Lech Walesa. He promises the Polish dissident movement the support of the West German government.
15 January: The "Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humankind" is founded in Moscow, the first independent institution in the Soviet Union.
17 January: During the annual demonstration in East Berlin commemorating the two socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who were murdered in 1919, more than 150 dissidents and people applying for permission to emigrate are arrested by the Ministry for Security. They have joined the demonstration march bearing their own placards with the Luxemburg quote: "Freedom is always the freedom of the one who thinks differently." In the following days, a number of prominent members from dissident groups are arrested, and some of them are deported to the West.
4 January: In a speech at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher calls for a global ban on chemical weapons.
11 February: The Ruling Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, agrees on travel concessions with Erich Honecker: among other things, West Berliners are allowed to spend one night in East Berlin on day visits.
19 February: More than 100,000 people demonstrate in the capital of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania, Vilnius, for political reforms and the independence of their country. On 24 February, there is a demonstration by 3,000 people in the capital of the Soviet Republic of Estonia, Tallin, who rally in support of independence despite an official ban.
23 February: The SED Politburo decides to apply travel regulations more strictly again. Although only 3,009 travellers – 0.23 percent – used their trip to the West as an opportunity to escape in 1987, they are mostly highly qualified professionals. For this reason, "joint trips by married couples, parents with their adult children, and citizens who live together" are no longer to be allowed, the permissible reasons for applications are to be reduced in number and "thorough examinations" are to be carried out on applications by university and technical college graduates and specialists "to avoid any abuse of these trips."
25 February: The Soviet Union starts removing nuclear medium-range missiles from the GDR.
1 March: "Day trips" to East Berlin by West Berliners are now allowed to last up to 48 hours.
3 March: Meeting between state and party leader Erich Honecker and the chairman of the Conference of Evangelical Church Leaderships, Bishop Werner Leich.
31 March: Agreement on an exchange of territory between West Berlin and the GDR. The some four-hectare "Lenné Triangle" in the Berlin district of Mitte, a piece of land that lies on the Western side of the Wall but has up to now belonged to East Berlin, is one of the areas affected.
13 April: The more restrictive approach to granting travel permission soon makes itself felt. Bonn’s Permanent Representative in the GDR, Hans Otto Bräutigam, goes to see Egon Krenz. He tells Krenz that "in the view of the West German government, there must be no noticeable fall in travel numbers." Krenz replies that "the number of trips is not a factor with permanent validity." He says that everything depends on the "overall relations". In addition, he says, "economic issues and the political atmosphere" must be considered. "The view that the amount of travel is an unchanging fact," Krenz says, "is therefore not correct." He adds that regulations on travel were a "matter for the GDR alone".
14 April: After many years of negotiation, the foreign ministers from the USA, the USSR, Pakistan and Afghanistan sign an agreement in Geneva to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. Among other things, it stipulates the complete withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from the country and the return of more than five million refugees.
19 April: The number of permits to leave the GDR has fallen greatly after 1985 (1985: 20,147; 1986: 16,902; 1987: 10,420). At the end of 1987, 112,000 applications to leave have been presented to the GDR authorities. The pressure from applicants and their willingness to take part in organised and open protest rises. An analysis that the Central Committee security secretary Egon Krenz passes on to Erich Honecker states: "Recently, migration applicants have increasingly been carrying out actions against the socialist state. In particular, mob gatherings, illegal meetings, provocations and silent demonstrations and marches have been taking place. (…) For example, in Berlin, 1,344 citizens presented themselves on one day (09.02.88) to the councils in city districts. As a rule, it is not possible to talk objectively with them. Their behaviour is extremely aggressive, mocking and arrogant."
To reduce the pressure, SED leader Honecker orders that the number of departure permits granted in a month be raised from 1,000 to 2,000-3,000.
26 April: The workers go on strike in the largest Polish steelworks, Nowa Huta near Kraków, demanding both a pay rise and the reappointment of workers who have been fired because of their participation in the banned union "Solidarity".
5 May: During a visit to China, SED Politburo member Günter Schabowski signs a partnership treaty between Beijing and East Berlin.
5 May: Chancellery minister Wolfgang Schäuble and SED foreign-currency procurer Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski hold talks on the review of the lump-sum transit fee and regulations regarding the Elbe border. It becomes clear that the SED expects a marked rise in travel, visitor and transit traffic in the coming years. Schäuble presses for the GDR to use "legal regulations" to guarantee "that travel and visits by citizens to non-socialist countries continue to follow this positive trend". What is important, he says, is "that every GDR citizen knows under which conditions he can apply for a passport and travel visa for non-socialist countries and go on trips to these countries." The West German government, he goes on to say, has no interest in "GDR citizens, except in the case of urgent family matters and other special cases, migrating to West Germany and to Berlin (West)."
10 May: In the SED Politburo, a controversy breaks out over future economic policy. While Honecker continues to extol the GDR as a bastion of economic stability to the outside world, the chairman of the State Planning Commission, Gerhard Schürer, is so concerned by the high Western debt of the GDR and its imminent insolvency that he proposes a drastic change of course in economic policy. He recommends stopping investment in the GDR’s ineffective microelectronics industry and redirecting the funds thus made available mainly towards the manufacture of processing machinery, freezing funds for all armed organisations, and changing subsidy policies. His proposals are rejected in the Politburo by Honecker and Günter Mittag, the Central Committee economics secretary.
15 May: The Soviet Union starts withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
22 May: In Hungary, Prime Minister Károly Grósz, an advocate of political and economic reform, is chosen to succeed János Kádár as the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. At the party’s special conference, the Central Committee agrees on changes in the party leadership, which is to be held by reformers. The separation of state and party is also to be accelerated.
26 May: Joint statement by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR (BEK) and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) for the 50th anniversary of the 1938 November pogroms.
29 May-2 June: Summit between US President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Here, the ratification documents are exchanged for the INF Treaty, which provides for the complete abolition of all nuclear medium-range missiles.
9 June: The West German daily "Die Welt" publishes remarks by the Soviet foreign-policy expert Vyacheslav Dashichev. Speaking to German journalists in the Soviet Embassy in Bonn, Dashichev had described the Wall and barbed wire on the GDR’s borders as "remnants and traditions left over from the Cold War" that "have to disappear over time."
Central Committee secretary Hermann Axen condemns Dashichev’s remarks to the Soviet ambassador in the GDR, Vyacheslav Kochemassov. He says they "are directed straight at the sovereignty and security interests of the GDR, at the security interests of the Warsaw Pact states, at our joint political defence alliance." He describes the comments as "grist to the mill for imperialist propaganda." Kochemassov calls Yevtushenko’s comments "irresponsible". He tries to reassure Axen, citing Gorbachev who had recently said clearly that the issue of the border was a sovereign affair for the GDR and that it alone could decide "how it secures its borders".
14 June: The SED Politburo discusses the non-achievement of the 1987 plan. Central Committee economics secretary Günter Mittag blames the directors of the collective combines and the ministers; Willi Stoph, the chairman of the Council of Ministers, refuses to accept the sudden shifting of responsibility from the Politburo to the Council of Ministers. Erich Honecker appeals to all: "We must prevent a collapse!"
17 June: In a confidential memo to the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Willi Stoph, the Ministry for Security reports that "discussions about domestic political issues, especially problems in successfully implementing economic and social policies and problems in trade and supply have continued to increase across wide sectors of the population." It says that the question "whether the party and state leadership really recognises the true situation of the economy and in the area of supply" is being raised more and more often.
19 June: During a concert by pop star Michael Jackson in front of the Reichstag building near the Wall, there are clashes between People’s Police and young people who have approached the Wall because they want to hear the concert from the Eastern sector.
21 June: Horst Neugebauer becomes the new Permanent Representative of the GDR in West Germany.
26 June/July: Representatives from 20 CSCE signatory states observe a joint troop manoeuvre involving Soviet and East German armed forces in Potsdam.
29 June: At a press conference organised by the Soviet party and state leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, leading Soviet politicians and economics experts call for radical reforms to advance the process of democratisation in the Soviet Union.
3 July: For the first time in 47 years, an All-Union Conference of the CPSU takes place, at which fundamental steps towards reforming political institutions are to be approved.
Poland imposes a swimming ban for Gdańsk Bay. This comes after the environmentalist organisation Greenpeace described the area as "ecologically dead".
7 July: At the 44th annual conference of the Comecon states in Prague, there is discussion of the reforms introduced by Soviet party and state leader Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s proposal to intensify ties with the EC is welcomed by all states with the exception of the GDR and Romania.
18 July: After the troubles in the enclave Nagorno-Karabakh, the Supreme Soviet decides that the region will remain part of the Soviet republic Azerbaijan. However, the Armenian region is to gain more autonomy. But the clashes continue even after the decision, and Moscow deploys troops on 24 November.
3 August: The West German amateur pilot Matthias Rust is pardoned by the Supreme Soviet and deported from the Soviet Union. In 1987, Rust landed on the Red Square in Moscow in a Cessna and was sentenced to four years in a labour camp.
12 August: An officer from the GDR border troops flees to West Germany. In an interview with RIAS, he confirms that an order to shoot and kill would-be escapees exists for the GDR border troops; the order had been suspended during Honecker’s visit to West Germany in 1987.
15 August: Diplomatic relations are commenced between the EG Commission and the GDR.
21 August: Four GDR citizens escape through the Spree River near the Berlin Reichstag, watched by numerous West Berliners. The crew of the patrol boat that pursues them do not make use of their firearms; all the escapees reach the Western part of the city uninjured.
26 August: The head of the State Planning Commission, Gerhard Schürer, writes in an internal document ("The Economic Situation of the GDR") that "under these concrete conditions, particularly the high burdens of foreign trade, the GDR consumes more than it produces in the long term and faces the necessity of introducing comprehensive measures to reverse this development." He says that if the export surplus of one billion valuta marks in 1989 is not raised to three billion valuta marks by 1990 – and improvements are not achieved already in 1989 – the "GDR would become insolvent during the course of 1990."
28 August: Dramatic accident in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate: at an air show at a US airbase in Rammstein, three planes from an Italian aerobatics squadron crash into the crowd of spectators. Seventy people are killed and more than 300 are injured, some seriously. The catastrophe provokes debate about whether such events should take place.
1 September: As agreed with the Soviet Union, the USA begins removing the Pershing II missiles stationed in West Germany.
5 September: In SED leadership circles, there is increasing nervousness because of the more and more difficult economic situation of the GDR. Even Central Committee economics secretary Günter Mittag prophesies: "We are at a point where things can tip."
14 September: The two German states agree on numerous improvements in transit traffic; the West German government raises the lump sum transit fee for the years 1990 to 1999 from 525 million to 860 million DM per year.
15-16 September: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visits the Soviet Union. During a private conversation with party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he stresses that he wants a new quality in relations with the Soviet Union. Gorbachev welcomes this intent and says that the time has come to work on building a common European house together.
On 30 October, the head of the 3rd European Department in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Alexander Bondarenko, informs SED leader Erich Honecker about the visit. Bondarenko says that the Soviet leadership views Kohl’s visit as "useful, multi-layered and substantial." Bondarenko says reassuringly that during Gorbachev’s return visit to Bonn in 1989, the Soviet side will keep to the line agreed with SED leader Honecker that all socialist countries had to "remain firmly on the ground of the existence of two self-sufficient, independent states" and "take firm, uniform positions on the question of West Berlin." He adds that the Soviet leadership understood well "that the FRG is both an opponent and a partner".
24 September: The SED leadership takes the salute at a parade in East Berlin for the 35th anniversary of the GDR Combat Groups.
30 September: In an interview with the West German weekly newspaper "Die Zeit", GDR Defence Minister Heinz Kessler gives his views on the order to shoot and kill escapees: "There has never – never! – been an order to shoot. There isn’t one now either […]. Shooting was only allowed when the border was crossed by force from both sides and when the person ordered by the GDR to protect the border was personally attacked."
1 October: Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the CPSU, is elected as chairman of the Supreme Soviet. As the Soviet head of state he can make stronger progress with restructuring the party leadership personnel and thus consolidate the basis for his reform policies.
10 October: Security forces disperse a protest march of some 200 demonstrators who are demonstrating against censorship of church newspapers.
12 October: The "three millionth apartment" is handed over by Erich Honecker in a blaze of propaganda, and the housing-construction programme is touted as having been successfully completed. However, the number does not tally with the facts. Not only were modernised apartments included: places in old people’s homes and workers’ hostels were also listed as "newly-built apartments". Internally, Honecker commented on a statistic of the State Central Administration according to which only a million new apartments had been effectively built in 17 years: "We have built a lot of new things. We have allowed the rest to become dilapidated. There is much carelessness in this area."
3 October: The Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU chairman Franz Josef Strauss dies of a heart attack in Munich.
16-18 October: The chairman of the Jewish World Congress, Edgar Bronfman, visits the GDR. The GDR declares itself willing to pay symbolic restitution to victims of Nazism who are still living.
28-29 October: Meeting of the foreign ministers from Warsaw Pact countries in Budapest during which discussions are held on further disarmament measures.
2 November: The GDR plans to tighten the penal code for political crimes. In a memo to Erich Honecker, Egon Krenz writes that "making an attempted crime punishable in the case of the production and distribution of written material and symbols libelling the state makes it possible to take action against the offenders at the earliest stage possible. A change in the definition of ‘forming a mob’ also helps make procedures flexible." However, it was necessary "to consider that Western media will make malicious comments on these reforms in the penal code."
8 November: Election of the former Vice President George Bush as the 41st president of the USA.
9/10 November: Chancellery minister Wolfgang Schäuble holds talks in East Berlin with SED General Secretary Erich Honecker on German-German relations.
11 November: Resignation of the Speaker of the Bundestag, Philipp Jenninger (CDU), after his controversial speech commemorating the "Reichskristallnacht" pogrom in 1938. He is succeeded by Rita Süssmuth (CDU).
17/18 November: The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is awarded the Karl Marx Medal in East Berlin for his achievements. During a private conversation, Honecker criticises the Soviet rulers, especially their media policies: "If people hold the opinion that the history of the communist world movement, particularly in the socialist countries, is a history of crimes," Honecker says, "they are not only on the false path, but are even working into the hands of those who disfigure the face of socialism, remove socialism, who want to cast a shadow on socialism. (…) We are not at all of the opinion that digging up negative aspects of history is a very big help for the communist and workers’ parties in the capitalist countries, but rather of the opinion that we have to start out from the present time."
19 November: The Soviet magazine "Sputnik", which comes out in the GDR, is taken from the list of postal newspaper distribution in the GDR. Even the October issue containing an article on the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 was not delivered. This is the first time a Soviet magazine has been banned in the GDR; in addition, five Soviet cinema films are taken off the programme.
23 November: Central Committee economics secretary Günter Mittag tells the small circle of people responsible for the GDR economy: "The way things are looking we’re headed for a crash. A complete write-off!"
20-24 November: An official delegation from the European Parliament visits the GDR Volkskammer for the first time.
30 November: The GDR Council of Ministers issues the first travel regulation that is not secret, but published in the GDR law gazette. The political basis of the regulation from the point of view of the Politburo is not to create any opportunities for travel going beyond previous practice and also not to allow an increase in the constant emigrations. The travel regulation does represent a degree of legal progress, as it offers the chance to have rejections reviewed in court; however, because it is more restrictive with regard to granting permission than the previous regulation, it provokes such a wave of criticism in the GDR that it has to be liberalised in March 1989.
2 December: At a conference of the SED Central Committee in East Berlin, party leader Erich Honecker stresses his negative attitude to Soviet reform policy.
7 December: Around 25,000 people die in a devastating earthquake in Armenia. For the first time, the Soviet Union accepts the offer of foreign assistance.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, the Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev announces unilateral steps towards disarmament by his country.
19 December: SED General Secretary Erich Honecker tells Hans Otto Bräutigam during the latter’s farewell visit as Permanent Representative of West Germany that GDR Defence Minister Kessler has recently stated that there is no "order to shoot" any more. Honecker says this "is not a simple issue. After all, these are restricted military zones. It’s also a mutual matter, for example because no one from the West German side would make pilgrimages to the border any more. If shots are fired now, they are warning shots."