For Germany's political parties polling day is a bit like the climb to the Pyrenean Tourmalet pass in the Tour de France. On occasion, sure-fire favourites fail to perform, and sometimes the contest falls to an outsider, who shows surprising stamina. But that was not the case in this year's election.

Steinmeier did not have enough puff to save the SPD from relegation to the opposition benches, which is where the members of his party should have been seated for quite some time. The SPD suffered a disastrous defeat, but the social democrats will now have to contend with a new leader.

The credit for preventing a repeat of the "grand coalition" does not belong to Angela Merkel and the CDU, but to Guido Westerwelle and the FDP. Westerwelle is something of a phenomenon, and his success is quite paradoxical. At a time when neoliberalism is in crisis, he has managed to obtain an unprecedented election result for a neoliberal party. Now that the world has woken up to the evils of market economics, he has garnered more support than he ever had in the past. But how, you might ask, did he pull off this feat? Not by changing his tune. Westerwelle won the election with the same siple formulat he has always used -- a campaign based on the well worn adage of "more power to the market," and a promise of "lower taxes."

He did not bother with the collapse of the financial system and behaved as though the economic crisis had nothing to do with the FDP or its theories. Perhaps the many voters who backed him were happy to interpret this attitude as the expression of a sustainable management strategy for liberals, or perhaps they do not really associate liberals with a particular ideology, but simply see them as representatives of policies that are personally beneficial to them – especially in the field of fiscal policy.

The Merkel golden age is over

In view of the hundred billion euros of debt owed by the German state, an initiative that supposedly aims to stimulate economic growth with tax cuts is not just a gamble, it is Russian roulette. According to article 66 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic, the chancellor and government ministers are not allowed to run businesses. Staking the future of the German people in a game of chance played for professional ends is one business that should certainly not be tolerated.

Angela Merkel now has the coalition that her party wants. It may not be to her personal taste, but she will have to act as though it is. In the future, she will no longer be able to hide behind the SPD. In the future, the CDU will be aiming to maintain a political line that increasingly favours the economy. However several questions remain: will the Chancellor retain her role as mother of the nation? Will she have difficulties with the FDP and her party? Or will she become an Iron Lady and thus sacrifice her reputation and her popularity?

In any case, the golden age of Angela Merkel is now at an end. The CDU has tradtionally taken advantage of the weakness of the SPD, you might even say it has thrived on it. But the CDU now appears to be on a shaky footing, and in need of support that has to be provided from within. It is unlikely that Angela Merkel will be able to provide that support, now that the political centre is now occupied by medium sized parties.

In opposition, the SPD will emerge from the torpor that marked its participation in the "grand coalition." But it will have to come to an arrangement with the left-wing Die Linke party if it is to have a hope of regaining power. The current black-yellow government is clearly a transition administration, which is holding the fort in a period where coalitions are increasingly unpopular – a period in which all the parties should learn that a reluctance to build bridges is a disadvantage in a five-party system. The continuing decline of voter participation is also linked to this political paralysis. The cards which now appear to be stuck together will soon be reshuffled, and the time of boredom, which was so ardently criticized during the election campaign, has come to an end.