21 January: During "Green Week", the traditional agricultural exhibition in West Berlin – visited by the West German president among others – the GDR again hinders transit traffic to the divided city.
10 January: GDR Defence Minister Hoffmann announces that directional anti-personnel mines (SM-70) are to be installed on the inner German border. The effectiveness of the SM-70 had been shown in the trial period: 75 percent of game hit by this type of mine suffered fatal injuries.
21 January: Under the leadership of Erich Honecker, 13 of the 20 members and candidates of the SED Politburo approach CPSU General Secretary Brezhnev, asking him to hold a discussion with Walter Ulbrich obliging the latter to hand in his voluntary resignation.
31 January: After a 19-year interruption, telephone connections are resumed between the two sections of Berlin on a limited basis.
25 February: A tunnel dug from the West Berlin side at the corner of Bernauer Strasse and Brunnenstrasse is discovered by border troops one day before its completion; it is already 120 metres long.
24 March: West German Chancellor Willy Brandt delivers a statement in the Bundestag on the reform policy of the social-liberal coalition.
3 May: With the Moscow’s consent, Walter Ulbricht is ousted in East Berlin; officially, the removal from office occurs at Ulbricht’s wish for reasons of age. Erich Honecker becomes his successor as SED General Secretary and chairman of the National Council of Defence. On 18 May Honecker gives a report in Moscow. He assures Brezhnev "that we remain solidly in the position of complete class dissociation from the imperialist Federal Republic of Germany, just as we agreed." Economically, Honecker says, the SED will pursue the course of independence from West Germany so that no political reliance arises.
15-19 June: 8th SED party conference: after Ulbricht’s downfall, the "socialist community" that he propagated is shelved. Erich Honecker sets out a new, pragmatic course: he says the new "main task" of SED policies is to be the further "improvement of the material and cultural living standards of the people on the basis of a high rate of development of socialist production, an increase in the effectiveness of scientific, technological progress and the growth of productivity." The raising of living standards, later termed the "unity of economic and social policies", is intended to counter any more strikes and ensure inner stability. The change of direction towards a form of consumer socialism follows a resolution to this end at the 24th CPSU party conference of April 1971. – Erich Mielke is promoted to the SED Politburo. In the ensuing years, the extension of the State Security leads to an all-encompassing surveillance network.
15 July: US President Richard Nixon announces that he will shortly travel to the People’s Republic of China. The announcement has been preceded by long secret negotiations between the two world powers on the establishment of diplomatic ties.
24 July: After training for two years, the Rostock urologist Peter Dobler swims across the Baltic Sea from Kühlungsborn to Fehmarn; he manages the 48-kilometre-long crossing in 24 hours.
5 August: Meeting between the party leaders of the Warsaw Pact states in the Crimea. On the agenda are the consequences of the rapprochement between China and the USA for the security of the Soviet Union.
13 August: On the 10th anniversary of the construction of the Wall, the "Combat Groups of the Working Class" parade in East Berlin. The SED provides its functionaries with a justificatory argument.
3 September: The USA and the USSR, Great Britain and France sign the Four-Power Agreement on Berlin. The Soviet Union guarantees that civilian traffic between West Berlin and West Germany will not be hindered in future. On the basis of the Four-Power Agreement, agreements are struck by the West German government and the West Berlin Senate with the GDR that lead to simplifications in visitor and travel traffic between West Berlin and the GDR (agreement of 20 December 1971) or West Germany and the GDR (Transit Agreement of 17 December 1971).
16-18 September: West German Chancellor Willy Brandt goes on a state visit to the Soviet Union; he is received by CPSU General Secretary Brezhnev in Oreanda in the Crimea.
29 September: The West German government reacts to the growing problem of environmental pollution with an environmental programme.
4 December: While deciding on the installation of anti-personnel mines on the inner German border (SM-70), there are some qualms in the executive committee of the GDR Ministry of Defence as to whether the likely triggering of the mines might not provoke a politically unfavourable reaction from the West and whether it might not therefore be better to develop and use less effective mines. Defence Minister Hoffmann proposes allowing Erich Honecker to decide this question as general secretary. – On 10 January 1972, Hoffmann announces to top staff that the mine will be introduced.
20 December: In East Berlin, the "agreement between the Senate and the GDR government on the facilitation and improvement of travel and visitor traffic" and the "agreement between the Senate and the GDR government on the regulation of the question of enclaves created by territorial exchange" are signed. In future, West Berliners are allowed to visit the GDR once or several times for up to thirty days a year "for humanitarian, family, religious, cultural and tourist reasons." To do so, they have to apply for permits at "offices for visiting and travel affairs". As part of the territorial exchange, it is agreed to build a kilometre-long connecting road for the West Berlin exclave Steinstücken.