DEU-ByeMerkelBERLIN, Germany — A new coalition deal, a new government, a new chancellor – three German parties agreed on Wednesday to move forward with a new era even as remarkably, many looked wistfully backwards: The deal brings to a close Angela Merkel's 16 years as leader of Europe's most influential country. 

"I'm not sure what we will do without her," said Heiko, a music student in Berlin, who calls himself a Green voter but added that he appreciated Merkel's "steady hand," especially during the pandemic. 
For young voters like Heiko, 22, Merkel, is the only German leader they have ever known.
Germans already know the country's next leader, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, 63. He has served as vice chancellor and finance minister in Merkel's government as a member of the junior coalition party. He doesn't excite many and the party only won narrowly in September's elections.
Instead, what observers say is exciting, new and unusual is the grouping itself: The deal brought together the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the leftist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) – who usually vote toward the right – in the first three-party government in Germany history. This left some with a sense of wonderment.
"It's remarkable," said Stefan Bauman, 54, of Frankfurt of the new governing coalition. "It's much younger, much more liberal than anything we have ever seen in Germany. It shows that voters believe something new has to happen in Germany, something has to change."
Many voters consider the new chancellor a technocrat, a caretaker in the vein of Merkel, standing for very little ideologically but reflecting the old-school, plodding nature of the country's two establishment parties, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats. Some believe the coalition may ultimately be unworkable and that the SPD will be overshadowed by the right and left.
"We have three completely different parties with different ideologies – before there were only two, which had different perspectives, but could compromise," said Klaus Lahme, 54, who owns a clothing store in Berlin. "I think these three can work together for the first three months, but I'm not sure how it will work in the long run."
"The programs of the Greens and the FDP will likely take the forefront, while the SPD's programs will take a backseat," he added. "The SPD might lead the government, but I think most of the changes might come from the other coalition partners."
Bauman expects the new parties to change the direction of the country.
"This coalition is going to focus on the environment, digitalization, modernization," he said. "In the past, the governments have focused on holding on to what we have. This one looks like it's going to focus on the future."
Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, a think tank, says that the election and this resulting coalition underscores how Germans are worried about the future.
"Germans prefer continuity, but if nothing changes it is understood that the country will lose its competitive advantage and ultimately its reputation as an economic powerhouse," she said. "This new three-way coalition is novel and aims to usher in transformation within Germany on many fronts whether it be weaning itself off coal by 2030 or investing in digital infrastructure."
Meanwhile, observers say that the conservatives could splinter even more than they have over the past decade.
Merkel, who usually polled higher than her conservative grouping, alienated many in the rightwing of her party and many say she wasn't truly representative of the CDU/CSU: It was on her watch that the far-right Alternative For Germany (AfD) party was created and won enough support to be able to enter parliament. And it was over the past decade that the CDU lost its stronghold, the state of Baden-Württemberg, after more than 50 years and saw its support decrease across the country until it finally ended up in the opposition after 16 years in power, suffering its worst election results ever.
Now, the CDU will busy itself with finding a new leader, analysts said, while the membership of the Greens, the FDP and the SPD vote on the new chancellor, likely in the first week of December.
What awaits the new chancellor is figuring out how to navigate the complicated politics of the pandemic: Germany has seen cases of covid-19 rise to the highest levels in the pandemic but unlike its neighbors, France and Italy, has been reluctant to implement mandates as opposition to mitigation measures has grown. At the same time, Merkel long dominated EU politics. It's unclear whether Scholz will have the same impact even though he said Wednesday that some of his key foreign policy priorities include maintaining the unity of the bloc and the long partnership with the United States. The SPD has long been the most pro-US party in Germany.
Even so, David-Wilp notes how the Greens will be in charge of the foreign ministry, most likely under the leadership of the party's chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, and there will be immediate challenges to the "values" foreign policy it wants to implement. "There are already many instances for the incoming government to test its principles," she said. "The weaponization of migrants in Belarus, Russia's troop build-up at the Ukrainian border, and human rights violations in China will require a policy response from Berlin."
Meanwhile, some also noted how Merkel's departure has prompted a months-long international outpouring of respect and support for Germany's first female chancellor – often called "Mutti" (mommy). At home, there has been no small amount of quiet fretting at the loss of Germany's pragmatic and problem-solving leader. The farewell has been in stark contrast to the departure of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who also served 16 years, when he stepped down in 1998.
"We were worn out by Kohl, he became too much like a king, too crazy – there was a sense of relief when he left," said Bauman. "Merkel, though, ran the country decently, kept things in check, kept things normal."
On Wednesday, Scholz brought her flowers at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet, likely her last. And as the leader of Europe prepares to depart the world stage, some said earned the respect and accolades – and more.
"I think after 16 years she deserves a rest," said Lahme.
Photo: December 8, 2021 - Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel receives flowers from her successor, Olaf Scholz, during the latter's swearing in ceremony. Merkel instructed Scholz to "take ownership of this house and work with it for the best of our country."
Credit: Courtesy of Germany's Bundesregierung (12/08/21)
Story/photo published date: 11/24/2021
A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.