The speculation over the German election's potential outcomes went on for so long. And then this happened: Merkel is the overwhelming winner. Even for her, that's probably a little strange.
Her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) are back where they were in Konrad Adenauer's time -- the state party that decides everything in the federal government and occupies virtually all of the most important positions. The remaining parties can only look on. Maybe the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) can still play a part. It's down to the politics of Angela Merkel's grace.
The party owes it to a chancellor who, with her presidential style of government, has appealed to broad sections of the German population. No one can say precisely what she stands for, but many people obviously feel they're in good hands with her as leader. It shows once again that if the political questions are complicated, trust is an important currency in politics.
The SPD, meanwhile, failed to gain support. Its candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, made a valiant effort, but in the end the task overwhelmed him. He didn't win over hearts and minds. A right-leaning candidate and a left-leaning set of policies just don't fit together, and the voters noticed that. The SPD has hard times ahead of it -- even if it now enters into a grand coalition with the conservatives, it would be merely as an appendage of the chancellor.
Merkel's junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democratic Party FDP , meanwhile, have been shattered, collapsing into their own hubris and discarded from parliament, humiliated. The party has only itself to blame. In the election four years ago, the FDP promised tax cuts which it failed to deliver, and it has done practically nothing for four years that voters remember positively. It is only a shadow of the once-proud liberal party of Hans-Dietrich Genscher. One could say that it got exactly what it deserved.
In its place is the new anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new citizens' protest movement that has come out of nowhere. It is strange, unpredictable and difficult to grasp. The real revolution is that this is the first time there has been a strong party to the right of the CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The AfD will make life difficult for Angela Merkel if it survives the next few months.
Merkel is at the peak of her power; she alone secured the conservative victory with her soaring popularity in the polls. That will further consolidate her power in the party, and potential successors such as Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen will have to wait. But that also means that when Angela Merkel does go, the party will face difficult times.
But there are also concerns waiting for Merkel. In the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber, she is faced by a phalanx of hostile red-green states -- i.e. those controlled by the SPD and the environmentalist Greens. And in a possible grand coalition, she would have to govern with a humiliated SPD, which probably wouldn't be made any easier by its volatile leader Sigmar Gabriel.
In any grand coalition, the SPD would want to do pretty much everything differently than last time around. Then, the SPD did the work and Merkel took the credit. This time, Gabriel and his colleagues would be opposition in government from the start. This alliance would be shaky from day one.
So while Merkel can enjoy this triumph, problems are already waiting for her. The euro crisis will come back to the fore. She can count on help from Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU , but he will demand a high price for any concession. The vice-chancellor is now a Bavarian.
Roland Nelles is SPIEGEL ONLINE's Berlin bureau chief.