In one of Germany’s most striking election results, Angela Merkel’s party lost the seat that the chancellor had represented since 1990 – to a candidate who was born in 1993.
Anna Kassautzki took the seat for the Social Democrats (SPD) after Mrs Merkel did not seek another term representing part of the former East Germany where she grew up.
It came amid a wider collapse in the East for Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) which has led to recriminations within the party.
Ms Kassautzki, 27, celebrated the symbolic changing of the guard as she travelled to Berlin to take up her new role.
“It’s just really cool,” she told supporters. “Thank you for the trust and the huge support before and during the election campaign.
“Now it’s about getting to work and moving forward together, to pursue socially responsible policies for the people. I’m absolutely ready.”
On Sunday, she topped the poll in her constituency with 24.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 20.4 per cent for the CDU candidate.
It was a huge swing after Mrs Merkel took a full 44.0 per cent of the vote for the CDU four years ago. The SPD had come fourth with 11.6 per cent.
Mrs Merkel had represented the area, which lies on Germany's Baltic coast, since she won a seat at the first all-German election after reunification in 1990.
The first chancellor from the East, Mrs Merkel worked as a scientist during the years of communist rule. She entered politics as the regime collapsed in 1989.
She sometimes used her background for political effect. During the pandemic, she assured Germans that she understood the pain of travel restrictions and would not bring them in unless absolutely necessary.
The CDU was the largest party in the East when she won re-election four years ago, but fell to third on Sunday – behind the SPD and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The party's nationwide result was the worst in its history, putting SPD candidate Olaf Scholz in pole position to be Germany's next chancellor. The CDU candidate, Armin Laschet, is from Germany's western tip.
“For the CDU in the East, the result of the general election is a catastrophe,” said Sven Schulze, the head of the party in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.
“We can’t even come close to sugar-coating that. We must now clear up unsparingly what happened at the election.”
Marco Wanderwitz, the government’s Commissioner for the East, was one of the CDU candidates to lose their seats in the region.
He had been criticised, including by Mrs Merkel, for remarking that some people from the East had “not arrived in democracy” after growing up under a dictatorship.
Speaking after the election, Mr Wanderwitz expressed concern about the AfD’s high vote share in the East. The far-right party won two of the five states that were wholly in the East until 1990.
“That is the issue that we will have to analyse in the next few days when we have the final result,” Mr Wanderwitz said.
Populist parties have often done well in the old East, where the economy still lags behind and where mainstream parties such as the CDU have fewer roots.
Ms Kassautzki grew up in the old West but moved to Greifswald, a town in her new constituency, to study for a master’s degree in politics.
Just 11 years old when Mrs Merkel came to power, she was member of an anti-fascist group as a teenager and joined the SPD aged 19.
She later worked at a university in Greisfwald and as a staffer for an SPD politician in the area. The SPD enjoyed a double success in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, the state where Ms Kassautzki won her seat, by cruising to victory in a separate regional election on the same day.
The losing CDU candidate, Georg Guenther, failed to profit from a visit by Mrs Merkel to her constituency just days before the election.
He accepted his loss with good grace. “It was a fair competition among democrats,” he said. “I will continue to engage in local politics and the CDU.”
By Tuesday morning, Ms Kassautzki was in Berlin after taking a train to the capital to meet her new colleagues.
“I’m tired, but at the same time totally hyped and excited,” she told supporters on her way to Berlin. "It’s an incredible honour that I won the district, but also a great responsibility.”