The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and their candidate Olaf Scholz narrowly won last Sunday's vote
Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel made an implicit call on politicians to overcome their differences on Sunday, as talks between parties to choose her successor got under way following last week's close election.
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and their candidate Olaf Scholz narrowly won last Sunday's vote on 25.7%, with Merkel's conservative CDU-CSU alliance plunging to an all-time low of 24.1% as she prepares to leave the stage after 16 years in power.
The result leaves the SPD in pole position to form a government, but conservative leader Armin Laschet has also vowed to begin coalition talks in a last-ditch effort to keep the ailing CDU-CSU in power.
Speaking in front of party leaders at celebrations in Halle to mark German reunification in 1990, Merkel said the country once again had the opportunity to "shape" its next chapter.
"We can argue over exactly how in the future, but we know that the answer is in our hands, that we have to listen and speak with each other, that we have differences, but above all things in common," Merkel said, in clear reference to negotiations at hand.
In the complex calculations for a coalition, the makeup of the next German government essentially hinges on which of the two main parties can persuade the Greens and the liberal FDP to sign up for a partnership.
The SPD will first huddle with the FDP on Sunday afternoon to kick off their coalition discussions, before speaking with the Greens in the evening, in what weekly magazine Der Spiegel magazine has described as the "poker game for power."
Their rivals, the CDU-CSU, will meet with the FDP on Sunday evening and the Greens on Tuesday.
The Social Democrats have discovered new momentum since snatching the close electon win.
A poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday showed that 28% of the public would vote SPD if the election were rerun, up 2% from the election itself. The conservative bloc meanwhile lost 3% points.
Some 76% of respondents said they thought Scholz should be the next German chancellor, with just 13% backing Laschet.
In an interview with Der Spiegel on Friday, Scholz said it was "clear from every poll that people don't want the (CDU-CSU) to be part of the next government."
"The election result is clear. The CDU and CSU have suffered a historic defeat and have been voted out," he said.
Ahead of the talks, FDP leader Cristian Lindner, whose party is closer politically to the CDU than the SPD, put pressure on the conservatives, calling on them to clarify whether they "really" wanted to govern in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag.
But the conservatives are not giving up, with Markus Blume, general secretary of the CSU, insisting on Friday that a conservative-led coalition "has a chance."