Mr. Nachtwey, a sociologist who writes widely on Germany’s society and politics, is the author of “Germany’s Hidden Crisis: Social Decline in the Heart of Europe.”
On Sunday, voters cast their ballots — and the results were profoundly equivocal. No party took more than 26 percent of the vote, the gap between the two biggest parties was minimal and no one made a major advance. The next government is some way off: Weeks, possibly months of coalition negotiations beckon. In the interim, Ms. Merkel will continue to lead the country.
In many ways, it’s a surprising result. For large stretches of the campaign, the Green Party and the Christian Democratic Union were the front-runners. But both fell away, their campaigns faltering as their candidates failed to convince voters they were worthy successors. The Social Democratic Party, headed by Olaf Scholz, then appeared to rise in the electorate’s esteem. But that, too, faded. There was no decisive victory.
It could have been a fresh start. In the face of a number of pressing challenges, rising inequality, run-down infrastructure and spiraling climate change among them, the election was a chance for the country to chart a better, more equal course for the 21st century. Instead, Germany is stuck. Ms. Merkel may be leaving. Yet the Germany she cultivated — careful, cautious, averse to major change — will carry on as before.