Angela Merkel will be fighting for her political life in difficult coalition negotiations in the next few weeks after her conservative party's disastrous showing in Sunday's election.
The crushing disappointment of the result, which saw an apparently invincible opinion poll lead fade to a wafer-thin advantage of three seats in parliament over the next biggest party and no governing majority, has badly weakened her.
If she cannot form a stable coalition with either Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats an option Schroeder has ruled out unless he heads it or the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), her future will be bleak.
"If Schroeder is blocking her chancellorship as he appears to be then it's not looking good for Frau Merkel," said Dietmar Herz, a political scientist at Erfurt University.
If a deal with the SPD is not possible, there remains the option of a "Jamaica coalition" with the FDP and the Greens, so called because the island's black, yellow and green flag matches the colors of the three parties, reports Reuters.
According to Mail & Guardian, a day of political horse-trading left Europe's most populous country facing months of confusion. No government is likely to emerge until November at the earliest. Both the main party leaders announced that they have begun talks with smaller parties to try to cobble together a coalition government.
An exhausted-looking Merkel urged Schrцder's Social Democrats to accept that it is "not the strongest group" in Germany's new Parliament and therefore has no right to form a government. She said she has "initiated contacts" with other parties, and is prepared to talk to all groups apart from the Left party.
But the Social Democrats' chairperson, Franz Mьntefering, said Schrцder will carry on as chancellor and is himself leading coalition talks.
"It is clear that Germans do not want Mrs Merkel as their chancellor," he said. "We want to rule with Mr Schrцder as chancellor and implement much of that which we have undertaken to do."
With the Free Democrats (FDP) apparently ruling out any alliance with Schrцder, the only viable coalition appeared to be one between Merkel's CDU, the FDP and the Greens a so-called Jamaican coalition because the parties' black, yellow and green colours resemble the Jamaican flag.
But Joschka Fischer, the Green party leader, appeared to quash that suggestion swiftly. Speaking from a hangar at Tempelhof airport, he said the coalition "will not happen".