1 January: In a television address, US President Reagan speaks to the Soviet people, and CPSU leader Gorbachev to the American people. Both leaders affirm their desire for disarmament.
10 January: Erich Honecker receives delegates from the US House of Representatives and holds talks with them on the global political situation and relations between the two countries.
15 January: Soviet party leader Gorbachev proposes a three-step plan to abolish all atomic weapons by 2000, meeting with mostly positive reactions from the West.
11 February: Three Western agents are exchanged for five Eastern agents and the Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky on the Glienicke Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin.
9-22 February: The GDR Volkskammer president Horst Sindermann visits West Germany at the invitation of the SPD parliamentary party.
25 February: Two metalworkers from Magdeburg swim westwards across the Elbe with army wetsuits, goggles and snorkels. The river is so cold that there are large ice floes and patrol boats cannot be used. The escape is successful. At the 27th CPSU Party Conference, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev announces radical reforms.
27 February: Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme is shot dead by an unknown assailant in the street after a visit to the cinema. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and SED leader Erich Honecker meet on the sidelines of the funeral ceremonies on 15 March.
1 March: Subscriber dialling from West Germany to the GDR is extended to 1,106 local telephone networks.
3 March: Members of GDR church-run peace groups, including the East Berlin pastor Rainer Eppelmann, publish an article, written in January, in the West German news magazine "Spiegel". It calls for new travel regulations, democratic co-determination, the creation of a community-service option as an alternative to military service and the abolition of the penal code for political crimes.
7 March: "DT 64", a radio station for young people in the GDR, goes on the air.
3 April: An exchange of cultural assets between the GDR and the West Berlin Senate.
17-21 April: The 10th SED Party Conference is dominated by SED hardliners who continue to refuse to support Gorbachev’s reforms. In a guest speech, the Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev makes further proposals on disarmament, which aim mainly to reduce conventional weapons in Europe.
26 April: A catastrophic core meltdown and explosion occur in Block 4 of the Ukrainian Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The explosions release large quantities of radiation, which is carried hundreds of kilometres in a radioactive cloud. Later, it is announced that the amount of radioactivity is 40 to 50 times as high as that released during the atom bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945. Higher levels of radioactivity are detected in large parts of Europe.
6 May: After many years of negotiations, the two German states sign a cultural agreement. It governs cultural exchanges in the field of music, film, fine arts, science, publishing, historic monuments and sport. Several remarkable exhibitions can be organised as a result.
20 May: The SED Politburo decides on proposals "for measures to strengthen the GDR economically". The declared strategic objective is to "guarantee the unassailability of the GDR with regard to the NSW ("Non-Socialist Economic Territory") and to halve the balance of claims and obligations towards the NSW" – in other words, Western debt – "by 1990."
26 May: The GDR announces that accredited Western diplomats in East Berlin have to present their diplomatic passports when transiting to the West. Up to now, identity cards have sufficed. Representatives of the three Western Powers protest and threaten to break off diplomatic ties, seeing the move as violating the Four Power Agreement. The GDR relents and rescinds the measures in June.
27 May: The USA states that it no longer intends to keep to the stipulations in the SALT II agreement, as the Soviet Union is continuing to build up arms.
25 July: After Mikhail Gorbachev presents new disarmament proposals, US President Ronald Reagan responds in writing to the Soviet party and state leader, saying he is ready to postpone the SDI programme, which envisages stationing weapons in space, by five to seven years.
28 July: In a keynote address on foreign policy, Mikhail Gorbachev announces a partial withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
13 August: 25th anniversary of the construction of the Wall.
15 September: Protest action by Greenpeace activists in front of the GDR Ministry of the Evironment against the leaching of salt into the Werra River from potash mines. The People’s Police put an end to the action within minutes; the protesters are deported to West Berlin.
18 September: After repeated protests from the West German government, the GDR tightens up its transit regulations to stem the uncontrolled stream of asylum-seekers via the Berlin district of Schönefeld to the West. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had sharply criticised the GDR’s method of deporting asylum-seekers, above all Tamils, to West Germany via West Berlin in an interview on 26 July. In response, the Foreign Ministry of the GDR had stated on 10 August that it saw no reason to stop foreigners travelling through to West Berlin, as the GDR was a transit country. Finally, however, the GDR does react and issues tighter entrance conditions for foreigners; this leads to a noticeable reduction in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in West Germany via the GDR.
3 October: Meeting between SED leader Erich Honecker and Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Gorbachev appeals for a restructuring of Comecon, saying that its organisation has to be reduced considerably. According to Gorbachev, it contains many "layabouts". Many apparatuses of Comecon, he says, are just cemeteries for new ideas and serve to protect idlers and obstructionists. Gorbachev says this could "ruin our cause". Honecker criticises the Soviet side in harsh words. According to Honecker, there are "some attitudes that cause the SED problems". He is alluding to an interview with the Soviet author Yevtushenko on Western television. In it, Yevtushenko had spoken of a single body of German literature and also remarked that he was in favour of German unity. "The appearance of such authors on US-backed television and radio in West Berlin," says Honecker, "is counter-revolutionary." His furious reaction culminates in the demand that "these people should be allowed to make appearances in Siberia, but not West Berlin." Gorbachev’s response to the attacks is reserved and very diplomatic; however, it is already evident here that the relationship between the reformer in Moscow and the SED hardliners in East Berlin is cooling.
10 October: The construction of the "fourth generation" of the Wall ("Grenzmauer-75") in the inner-city area of Berlin is practically completed. The GDR border troops now place more importance on arresting would-be escapees in the "hinterland". If an arrest already takes place before or at the hindmost barrier, the incident cannot be seen from the Western side. This saves the political and military leadership in the GDR from the negative publicity that border incidents usually receive in the West. A paper of the GDR border troops therefore states: "In the interests of further stabilisation of border security, the hindmost barrier element, the Border Signal and Barrier Fence II (Grenzsignal- und Sperrzaun II), is to be erected as a priority and its construction completed as planned by 1988. If necessary, the new construction of the foremost barrier element should be dispensed with." A raised signal component can be attached to the "Grenzsignal- und Sperrzaun II" to make it even more impregnable.
11/12 October: A summit meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik ends inconclusively, as the two sides cannot reach agreement on the American missile defence system, the SDI.
15 October: In an interview with the American magazine "Newsweek", Helmut Kohl compares the rhetorical abilities of the Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev with those of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. This places a considerable strain on the relationship between Bonn and Moscow. On 6 November, Kohl backs down on his comments in front of the Bundestag without however officially apologising.
21 October: At a joint press conference in Bonn, Egon Bahr and SED Politburo member Hermann Axen make proposals for a nuclear-free zone in Central Europe. The West German government criticises this as "highly dubious" parallel foreign policy ("Nebenaussenpolitik").
21-26 October: Erich Honecker travels to China on an official goodwill visit.
30 October: For the first time, contemporary art from West Germany is shown in the GDR at an exhibition in East Berlin.
4 November: Start of the third CSCE follow-up meeting in Vienna. During the conference, which runs until 15 January 1989, a mandate is given for further disarmament negotiations on conventional armed forces in Europe (in the wake of the MBFR negotiations) and on confidence and security-building measures that are to start on 24 March 1989.
12 November: The two German states agree on the restitution of archival documents evacuated in the Second World War.
6 November: The first German-German town twinning is agreed between Saarlouis and Eisenhüttenstadt. The West German Bundestag holds debates on the disarmament talks at the Soviet-American summit in Reykjavik, which came close to succeeding. There is also discussion of the West German Chancellor’s controversial comparison of Gorbachev with Goebbels.
20 November: After fleeing to the West, an officer from the GDR border troops talks about everyday life as a border officer and the effects of the "order to shoot". In the previous months, the number of border troop members who have fled has risen noticeably.
21 November: The 22-year-old René Gross and the 38-year-old Manfred Mäder are shot dead while attempting to escape in a truck at the Berlin sector border.
24 November: The 27-year-old Michael Bittner is killed by several shots in the back at the Berlin Wall while trying to escape. The Ministry for State Security manages to keep the murder of Michael Bittner secret to the end of the GDR. The death certificate and autopsy findings are destroyed at the instigation of the Stasi. The Stasi also ensures that no proof of Michael Bittner’s burial exists to this day. In 1997, the two men that fired the fatal shots, Olaf H. and Hartmut B., are handed a suspended sentence of one year and three months. In 1990/1991, the two WDR television journalists Werner Filmer and Heribert Schwan speak with Irmgard Bittner, the mother of Michael Bittner, and record her memories of her son’s escape attempt.
November: At a meeting of the Political Advisory Committee of the Warsaw Pact, CPSU leader Mikhail Gorbachev moves away from the Brezhnev doctrine of the limited sovereignty of Warsaw Pact member states. The "independence of each party, its right to take sovereign decisions on its country’s developmental problems, its responsibility to its own people" are "inviolable principles". According to Gorbachev, no one can lay claim to a special role in the socialist community."
1 December: The GDR border troops celebrate their 40th anniversary.
6 December: An exhibition about "books in the GDR" opens in Saarbrücken with more than 20,000 titles.
16 December: The Soviet party and state leader Mikhail Gorbachev personally tells the dissident Andrei Sakharov, who is being held in a camp near Gorky, that he is going to be released.