Now begins the wrangling. The imminent departure of Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor, amid the country’s closest election results in decades, leaves Europe’s powerhouse facing an uncertain future.
In a nation where coalitions are the norm, all politics is done by debate and negotiation rather than ballot-box victories.
But this time the power-sharing is more complex than ever. The most likely outcome might be a union of three Left-of-centre parties, in a wobbly triple combination. That’s something Germany hasn’t experienced since the early 1950s.
Only one thing is sure. Frau Merkel has embedded Germany so deeply in the European Union superstate that there can be no reversal of our headlong pro-Euro direction.
Germany is emasculated.
We have handed over our sovereignty to Brussels. Whoever is sitting at the top of the table in Berlin is now of secondary importance.
In 16 years as head of state, Angela Merkel has achieved her goal of turning Germany into a locomotive engine, pulling Europe ever deeper into integration.
Coming from Eastern Germany she has, consciously or not, cemented a change of mentality in this country, the most populous in Europe. Frau Merkel has remoulded us in an image resembling something closer to her former home, the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Contender for the top job: Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz (centre)
But she has done so at the expense of her party, the formerly conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Under party leader Armin Laschet, the CDU suffered its worst result since the existence of the Federal Republic. It was virtually wiped out in the east of the country. In Saxony, the party that once was triumphant under Helmut Kohl was relegated to third place, with the ultra-conservative Alternative for Germany (AfD) now the biggest party in the eastern federal state.
It is a defeat so ignominious that, by the time you read this, Laschet might well be ousted.
Merkel has moved the CDU so far to the Left of centre, that conservatives no longer feel represented by her. They resent her politics and either no longer vote at all or give their vote to other parties out of frustration.
Nobody has any idea what the CDU stands for these days, as Merkel threw overboard all ideological luggage from the past and enthusiastically adopted formerly Left-wing positions.
She embraced open borders and the centralisation of government, she slashed spending on the Armed Forces, she was lax on law and order.
In short, she dragged her party so far to the Left that it became indistinguishable from the Social Democrats. Gleefully, they positioned themselves as her anointed heirs.
Merkel has done to the Christian Democrats what Tony Blair did (in the other direction) to Labour, hauling her party into the centre and then across to the other side.
The CDU is no longer a conservative party. Like a football team that loses its superstar player, it must now completely redefine itself – and it doesn’t know how to do that.
Just as Labour in Britain has been unable to pull out of its downward spiral since Blair’s departure, it is hard to see what the CDU can do in the post-Merkel era.
But this is Germany, of course. Don’t imagine there will be overt chaos. We’re far too well organised for that.
The key to power now lies with the minority parties, particularly the Greens and the Liberals (FDP). They have each scooped up between 10 and 15 per cent of the national vote.
The CDU and their main rivals, the centre-Left SPD, both polled around 25 per cent. Whoever can persuade the Greens and Liberals to come aboard will form the next government.
During months of haggling, both leading parties will offer to rewrite their manifestos, adopt new policies, abandon pledges and ditch allies. There is nothing more cynical than coalition politics in action.
In the meantime, Merkel will stay on as the caretaker chancellor, probably into the New Year, allowing her to deliver one more traditional address to the nation.
Her potential successors are Laschet (if he’s still standing) and the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, whose face is fixed in a permanent grin. He was a hard-Left radical in his youth, fighting for ‘victory over the capitalist economy’.
His task is to convince the pro-business Liberals that he will allow industry to thrive, while persuading the Greens that he will follow a course of reducing carbon emissions.
With typical German hubris, the Greens want Germany to be a global leader on climate change, the world’s No 1 example of clean energy. Liberals prefer to focus on lower taxes and are ardently against an increase in the cost of living for the middle classes.
Angela Merkel stepped down as Chancellor at the election but will stay on as caretaker chancellor until a new government has officially been formed
Right now, they both seem more likely to reject the CDU and back Scholz.
But it really doesn’t matter what the coalition looks like. They all sing from the same hymn sheet, particularly as far as Europe and foreign policy are concerned.
And even when she has stepped down as chancellor, Merkel will continue to be Europe’s most respected elder statesman. Her protegé, Ursula von der Leyen, will still be President of the European Commission. In other words, no change there. Whether our next chancellor is Scholz, Laschet or Laschet’s successor, Germany will forge ahead with the continued integration of EU countries into a huge blob.
Laschet grew up at the French border and sees no point in nation states at all. He comes from Aachen, which is close to the state lines with Belgium and the Netherlands (the city where the first European emperor, Charlemagne, was crowned). It is no big surprise that he sees France and Germany as one.
Scholz is even more in favour of EU integration than Merkel. Like the socialist activist he once so passionately was, he is an internationalist. His dream is to melt Europe into one superstate.
In fact, most modern Social Democrats, particularly the young, yearn for a future where nation states cease to exist, and we all live in a colourful, multi-cultural society where it no longer matters where anybody comes from.
For Britain, this is by no means all bad news. For one thing, whatever his delusions, French president Emmanuel Macron has no hope of stepping up and taking Merkel’s place as the most prominent politician in Europe.
Ignore his posturing. The man is a laughing stock in Germany, and barely respected in his own country. He could not be ‘first among equals’ among Europe’s leaders, even if he had a complete change of personality. It would take more than that to make him any match for Frau Merkel.
And readers who still harbour fears about the re-emergence of a powerful Germany can be reassured that the ultimate goal of German politicians on all sides is the abolition of nation states, where nationalism is impossible.
All of which makes one conclusion very plain, if nothing else. Brexit was a fortuitous escape for you in Britain.
Many Britons were always opposed to being on board the Euro juggernaut, with unelected technocrats at the wheel. That’s what Merkel has bequeathed to Germany and, no matter who succeeds her, our country can no longer escape the ride.