For many years following World War II, German politics was something of a predictable affair. There were basically three parties to choose from: the Christian Democrats (or the Christian Social Union if you lived in Bavaria) on the center right, the Social Democrats on the center left and the Free Democrats for adherents of the free market. The latter played junior coalition partner to whichever of its larger brethren came out on top in elections.
That model, however, began to change with the emergence of the Greens. Indeed, it was seen as a minor revolution in 1998 when a Joschka Fischer-led Green Party helped the Social Democrats into the Chancellery behind Gerhard Schröder.
Since then, the number of parties in the German political landscape has multiplied yet again, with the emergence of the far-left Left Party in the years following Schröder's controversial welfare reforms and the Pirate Party more recently. The result is that every election, both state and national, has become much more difficult to predict. And the possibilities for forming a governing coalition have likewise multiplied.
With the German election approaching this autumn, SPIEGEL ONLINE has put together a brief guide to the country's political parties so you can find your way as the campaign heats up.