January 1983: GDR border troops begin building new observation towers along the Berlin Wall. They are no longer round, but constructed of rectangular pre-fabricated concrete elements. While the old towers are so instable that they are not permitted to be used in storms or when there are winds of force 7 or higher, the new towers do not have to be abandoned until winds reach force 11.
6 March: In early Bundestag elections, CDU and CSU are the clear victors with 48.8 percent of votes. The SPD falls to 38.2 percent; the FDP loses votes as well, reaching only seven percent. The new governing coalition still has a comfortable majority. The Greens enter the Bundestag for the first time with 5.6 percent of votes.
23 March: After months of deliberations and preparations, US President Ronald Reagan announces his "Strategic Defense Initiative" (SDI) – a research programme for a space-based, non-nuclear missile defence system. Its enormous technological demands and astronomical cost are intended to force the Soviet Union to its knees militarily and financially.
30 March: In a secret memorandum for the Soviets, SED Politburo member Werner Krolokowski draws a dramatic picture of the economic situation in the GDR and reports on the country’s imminent insolvency.
At the same time, he vehemently criticises SED leader Erich Honecker, who, he says, does not represent a "class-based" position. "It is a paradox," says Krolokowski, "that an inveterate West German is leading the GDR."
10 April: At the Berlin-Drewitz border crossing point, the transit traveller Rudolf Burkert suffers a heart attack during an interrogation by GDR border officials. There are tensions in German-German relations as a consequence.
17 April: SED Politburo member Günter Mittag, who is responsible for economic affairs, visits the trade fair in Hanover. He then holds talks with West German Economics Minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff and business representatives. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl refuses to receive Mittag on 10 April because of the unexplained death of the transit traveller Rudolf Burkert.
22 April: German-German writers’ meeting in East Berlin (2nd "Berliner Begegnung" ["Berlin Encounter"]) with the theme of peace and disarmament.
26 April: The transit traveller Heinz Moldenhauer dies of heart failure during customs procedures at the Wartha border crossing point.
28 April: SED General Secretary Erich Honecker cancels his planned visit to West Germany in the wake of tensions over the deaths of two West German transit travellers in the GDR.
12 May: Five members of the Bundestag from the "Greens" are arrested by People’s Police in Alexander Square in Berlin after they demonstrate for disarmament in East and West. They are released again after short interrogations.
5 June: Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, the SED foreign-currency procurer and head of KoKo ("Commercial Coordination"), conveys Erich Honecker’s severe warning to Franz Josef Strauss that the "hatches" (to West Germany) would be "battened down" if trade with the GDR were to be "restricted or stopped". In this case, the GDR would "solve its tasks with the aid of Comecon". But if Strauss could help the GDR to overcome its payment crisis, Honecker would prefer to take the "path towards the West". In a summary of this conversation in his memoirs, entitled "Erinnerungen" ("Memories"), the Bavarian Prime Minister later writes that Honecker promised a number of humanitarian concessions in return, provided that Strauss did not publicise his (Honecker’s) request.
8 June: In a spectacular operation by the GDR State Security, Roland Jahn, a member of the Jena peace group, is deported to the West against his stated will. The Ministry for Security steps up its clampdown on dissident groups. Jahn had been arrested on 1 September 1982 after he took part in a demonstration in support of the Polish union "Solidarity".
16 June: Pope John Paul II visits his homeland, Poland, meeting among other things with the leader of the banned union "Solidarity", Lech Walesa, on 23 June.
29 June: The West German government approves a government guarantee for a loan of one billion DM that the GDR wants to take out from West German banks. The loan has been arranged over the past weeks by Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski as GDR representative and Franz Josef Strauss. A formal deal is not struck connecting the granting of the loan with humanitarian concessions; however, verbal agreements to this effect are made. The GDR introduces easier travelling and visiting regulations and a "more generous" approach to granting permission to leave the country to its citizens; the number of legal, permitted cases of migration rises from 7,729 in 1983 to 34,982 in 1984. The GDR also doubles the export of political prisoners to West Germany in 1984 and 1985 (1983: 1,105; 1984; 2,236; 1985: 2,676).
29 June: The committee of the Ministry for Security deliberates on the global situation, the situation of the GDR (motto: "Behind every incident is an unknown enemy") and requests to migrate. Regarding "unlawful migration applicants," it states: "We must know what value these people have for our socialist society, what development they have undergone in our state, what they have become. It remains clear that there will be no exceptions made on decisions regarding migration for bearers of official secrets within the stipulated period; it is also clear that enemies are treated as enemies. But when, even after all social possibilities have been tried, there is no chance of winning these people back, when we have to do with so-called ‘incorrigibles’, corresponding decision proposals are to be made more quickly. No abscesses should be allowed to form. In such cases, there must be no delay; there must be quick action."
4-7 July: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher travel to Moscow. Talks focus on more intensive cooperation in various areas and an improvement in mutual relations.
24 July: During a "private trip" to Lake Werbellin, the Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss meets with SED General Secretary Erich Honecker. He then visits Dresden. There, as he leaves the art gallery, several passers-by call to him, "Please help us!"
31 August/1 September: A Boeing 747 civilian passenger airliner with 269 people on board goes 300 miles off course while flying from Alaska to Seoul and enters Soviet air space. The reasons for the deviation remain unknown to this day. Acting on orders, the Soviet SU-15 pilot Osipovich shoots down the plane with two missiles. The plane crashes into the Sea of Japan. None of the passengers – who include 63 Americans – survives.
American-Soviet relations reach their nadir. In a radio address on 5 September, US President Reagan describes the downing of the plane as a "massacre" six times and condemns it as a crime against humanity; however, he declines to take radical measures. On 6 September, the Soviet TASS news agency tries to justify the shooting down of the plane; it says the aircraft was a spy plane under orders from the US government. On 7 September, the Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko publicly defends the action during his speech at the closing session of the CSCE in Madrid. A meeting between US Secretary of State Shultz and his counterpart Gromyko in Madrid on 8 September, which was originally supposed to provide the basis for a new disarmament initiative, is instead marked by a heated dispute over the shooting down of the plane.
1 September: Members of the GDR peace movement are arrested by the People’s Police after they try to form a human chain between the Soviet and the American embassies in East Berlin.
15 September: After the close of the Madrid CSCE summit, the GDR Council of Ministers for the first time issues a regulation granting the purely formal right to apply for a "change of residence to another country". However, this right is restricted to people moving to join close relatives and spouses. Even in such cases, there is no legal guarantee that they will obtain permission, as the regulation is framed as a discretionary provision. It also contains no fewer than ten reasons for rejection; it does not require citizens to be given a written notification, and the only authority with which they can officially lodge a complaint is the one responsible for processing applications in the first place. Secret training material issued by the Interior Ministry states: "The GDR assumes that there are in principle no objective social reasons under socialism why citizens of the GDR have to leave their socialist state. For socialism is the society of real humanism."
25 September: In East Berlin, Richard von Weizsäcker becomes the first Ruling Mayor of Berlin to meet SED General Secretary Erich Honecker.
3 October: The debate on the stocking up of arms motivates the GDR defence minister, in his order 101/83, to speak of a "dangerous escalation of the international situation" that makes it necessary to raise the combat readiness of the border troops. He says political education should direct its efforts not only towards instilling love of the socialist fatherland, but also towards conveying "a class-based concept of the enemy that allows a clear recognition of the threat of imperialist aggression, removes doubts about the brutality and underhandedness of the enemy, and creates revulsion and hate."
5 October: SED General Secretary Erich Honecker publicly announces the dismantling of the some 60,000 automatic firing devices (SM-70) on the inner German border. They are removed by 31 December 1984; the landmines are also taken away by 1 July 1985. The reason behind this move is that the UN "Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects" of 10 October 1980 enters into force for the GDR on 2 December 1983. In Protocol II of this convention, the use of "mines, booby-traps and other devices" "either in offence, defence or by way of reprisals, against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians" is prohibited in all circumstances.
October: An exchange of letters between party and state leader Erich Honecker and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl makes clear their difference in attitudes to the stationing of missiles in West Germany and the faltering INF negotiations in Geneva on the removal of nuclear medium-range missiles from Europe. However, both sides try to keep the climate of German-German relations free of the ice that is beginning to affect ties between the superpowers; Erich Honecker speaks of a German "coalition of rationality".
25 October: West German rock musician Udo Lindenberg and his "Panikorchester" (famous for the hit "Sonderzug nach Pankow" ["Special Train to Pankow"]) perform in the East Berlin Palace of the Republic at the invitation of the FDJ (Free German Youth).
11 November: Start of the strictly secret NATO nuclear command post exercise "Able Archer 83" – considered by observers to be probably the highest point of military tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union. The exercise simulates – without troops and without the mobilisation of nuclear weapons – the relay of commands in the case of a nuclear war according to the Pentagon’s "Single Integrated Operational Plan" (SIOP). It contains 50,000 Soviet targets. The Soviet Union takes this exercise very seriously, according to information from the later KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky. Moscow puts nuclear-capable fighter planes on high combat alert including in the GDR and Poland. According to Gordievsky, KGB circles persuade the Soviet leadership that the USA is preparing a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union – this fear has become commonplace in the Soviet Union at the time. Even after the NATO exercise finishes, tensions remain: on 14 November, the first cruise missiles are stationed in Great Britain.
22 November: The West German Bundestag approves the stationing of new US medium-range missiles, thus implementing the NATO resolution on building up its arms capability. In response, the Soviet Union breaks off the INF negotiations in Geneva on 23 November and the START negotiations as well on 8 December.
24 November: The Soviet party leader Yuri Andropov announces military measures against NATO’s arms build-up, including the stationing of additional missiles in the GDR and the CSSR and of submarines in closer proximity to the USA coastline.
25 November: In a speech to the SED Central Committee, General Secretary Erich Honecker says that the decision to station missiles has caused "serious damage" to the European system of treaties, including the Basic Treaty on relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. But in the next sentence he continues: "We are in favour of limiting this damage as far as possible."
28 November: The CPSU leadership confidentially tells the SED Politburo that "those states that have agreed to the stationing of the missiles must now feel the political consequences of this decision." As the first part of an "action plan", the leadership in Moscow announces negative effects on relations between West Germany and the USSR and other socialist countries. It calls on its "German friends" to "make it plain to the FRG how much the situation has changed after the stationing of the missiles, partly because of the political problems it continually raises – the question of the borders, of citizenship etc., stricter controls on travel by West German citizens to the GDR and other things as well."
5 December: The deployment of Soviet medium-range missiles in the GDR is criticised at a synod of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Thuringia.
10 November: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Lech Walesa, the leader of the banned Polish trade union "Solidarity".
14 December: Speaking to Soviet war veterans in Moscow, Defence Minister Ustinov proposes striking a more conciliatory tone towards the West. However complicated the military and political situation is, he says, there is no reason to dramatise it.
19 December: In a long telephone call, SED leader Erich Honecker and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl affirm their mutual willingness to continue to work together and to enhance relations between the GDR and West Germany, despite the tense East-West situation in the wake of the deployment of new missile systems.
25 December: On Christmas, the 21-year-old bricklayer Silvio Proksch is shot at while trying to escape over the Berlin Wall. He receives no medical assistance for quite a long time. Silvio Proksch bleeds to death in the "death strip". The guard who delivered the fatal shot is awarded the Bronze Medal of the Border Troops. The GDR State Security keeps the incident secret and spirits away the corpse of the dead man. In 1990/1991 two television journalists from German broadcaster WDR, Werner Filmer and Heribert Schwan, speak with Irene Agotz, the sister of Silvio Proksch, and document her memories of her brother’s escape attempt and the way the Stasi treated family members.
30 December: The East German railway (Deutsche Reichsbahn) and the West Berlin Senate agree that the Senate is to take over the suburban railway service in West Berlin city territory.
December 1983: Intelligence services in East and West step up their activities in the area of high technology. During a meeting of top KGB staff in Moscow, Vladimir Kryuchkov, the head of the 1st KGB department, calls for new intelligence resources for the purchase of high technology in view of measures taken by CoCom. At the same time, the CIA starts an economic-technological programme of disinformation: intermediaries, such as businesspeople involved in East-West trade, are used to convey faked or incomplete technological papers, data and other information to Soviet scientists (including blueprints for gas turbines, microchips, chemicals etc.).