Germany election: As Angela Merkel bows out, the race to succeed her remains unclear with just hours left to run

24 September 2021, 20:57 | Updated: 25 September 2021, 09:35

The Hofbrauhaus in the heart of Munich is a huge building dedicated to the art of beer.

It's been welcoming drinkers for 432 years, during which time Bavaria has been ruled variously by princes, emperors, kings, dukes, dictators and, latterly, a load of democrats.

The walls here have heard every grumble and every political aspiration. And now they seem to reverberate to a desire for…something.

"We need a lot of change because over the last 16 years, even though lots of things have happened, not a lot has changed in the culture of the country," one drinker told us.

"Germany needs to think about lots of things, like climate change."

Climate change is one of those topics you hear mentioned a lot in this election.

Ever since the floods that wreaked such damage a few months ago, the topic has crept up in every interview and every debate.

But the curiosity is that, for all the discussion, it's still not clear whether voters really, truly care about climate change as much as they do about, say, income tax, the minimum wage or rent controls.

The Greens, for instance, are likely to enjoy the best result they've ever had in a federal election. But far from capitalising on the angst created by the floods, their polling is actually worse now than when water was cascading through so many houses.

Back in May, the Greens, and their young leader Annalena Baerbock, were the most popular party; now they're running in third place.

So what's going on? Michael Pahle is a working group leader at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He has watched the election with interest.

"The Green Party stands for change so when the election was a few months away, Germans embraced change as a concept and offered their support," he told Sky News.

"But the closer we came to the election, it's clearer that voting is actually a decision about what their lives will look like in the next four years so then they kind of stepped back into this old comfort zone of having stability and not embracing change as much."

Mr Pahle told Sky News it was wholly predictable that, at a time of economic stability, people would think of stability. But he also raised the prospect that the Green Party might actually benefit from not winning, but instead playing a significant role in a coalition government.

"That's definitely not their worst option," he said. "They would have more responsibility, of course, if they led the government, but then they also have to make concessions.

"If they are in a coalition then they can push through their agenda, probably more than if they were the head of the government."

Back in Munich, and we move across town.

Angela Merkel is back in Bavaria for a rally of her party, the CDU. Her successor as leader, Armin Laschet, arrives alongside her, but it's obvious who carries the star quality.

Ms Merkel has the presence of someone who has bestrode the global stage; Mr Laschet, by contrast, looks slightly edgy and awkward.

When he took over as head of the CDU, Mr Laschet inherited a political golden ticket. The party's alumni include some of the great names from German politics - Adenauer, Kohl, Schauble and, of course, Merkel.

And yet his campaign has stuttered. He was pictured, horribly, chuckling during a presidential speech to recognise victims of the floods. His performances during debates have sometimes seemed wooden.

Were it not for the fact that his chief rival, the social democrat Olaf Scholz, is another uncharismatic white man in his 60s, Mr Laschet's failings may have appeared even more acute.

Yet it is Mr Scholz who leads, narrowly, as this race enters the home straight. We are bound to end up with another coalition, but the winner of the popular vote will probably end up as chancellor. Probably, but not definitely.

The bottom line is that nobody has really grasped this election, like a long-distance race where none of the runners wants to hit the front.

We are just hours from the end and, truly, we don't know what's going to happen. Mr Scholz and Mr Laschet, so often criticised for being dull, may just combine to create a thrilling denouement.