There is an air of purpose in Germany. A sense that, while the year is starting to close, it was Angela Merkel's.
On Friday he will descend as leader of his CDU party and has confirmed that he will not return as a chancellor when his fourth term ends in 2021.
C & # 39; is a famous German saying: "Everything has an end – only sausages have two". It occurs to me now, since the smell of frying meat comes from the Christmas markets in Berlin and is mixed with the spicy aroma of mulled wine.
Wandering around a market, a couple of retirees do not agree on his legacy.
"I have to say I'm sorry to see you leave," says Ingrid. "It was bad luck for her with refugee politics, but for me it was the Chancellor. "
"She's been working too long," says Heinz. It would be better to have a two-way limit like they do in the United States ".
Can Merkel complete her mandate?
The race to replace Mrs. Merkel as the leader of the CDU is particularly charged. The person who was chosen to lead the party could emerge as the next German chancellor.
"Unlike the United Kingdom, the party leader does not automatically become the prime minister's candidate, but traditionally it has always been good for a chancellor to be president of his party," says Jan Techau of the German fund Marshall.
He says that Ms. Merkel's decision to resign as CDU leader but to remain a chancellor creates friction in the system.
"The moment you announce your resignation as a party president, everyone is waiting for the moment you resign as chancellor."
And so, while the Germans are quick to prepare for Christmas, three candidates have traveled feverishly to the country, taking nasty jokes for the faithful of the party.
Everything will be resolved at the party conference on Friday, when only 1 001 delegates will have the opportunity to vote.
Who wants Merkel's work?
At a hustle and bustle in Berlin, the ranks and ranks crowd to meet and interrogate the three people who, though relatively unknown outside of Germany, have become household names here.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – known as AKK – is the Merkel choice
The 56-year-old former Prime Minister of the state of the Saar has been appointed secretary general of the CDU at the beginning of this year and is the party's favorite, according to the polls. Popular in Saarland and Berlin, it has an unpretentious style and a reputation for calm analysis and political acumen.
His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness; she is a Merkel loyalist who is perceived as someone who will replicate much of the chancellor's style and politics.
Friedrich Merz – former senior party figure, marginalized by Merkel
The business man millionaire was a powerful player in the CDU in the early 2000s but left politics when he fell with the chancellor.
Since then, the 63-year-old lawyer – who has strong ties to America – has built a career in the private sector and works for the US company Blackrock. He appeals to the more conservative and party-oriented business and has the official support of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
Jens Spahn – young and energetic but unlikely to win
Ms. Merkel's health minister is ambitious and, 38, the youngest of the three candidates.
The former banker was once described by Schäuble as "one of the great hopes for the future of our party".
But Mr. Spahn rippled the feathers in the party and in the government. Strongly conservative, Catholic and gay, he is a figure that divides for many.
Because candidates have a key challenge
After almost 20 years as a party leader, Ms. Merkel still has extraordinary respect within the CDU. Candidates must somehow embody change and also represent continuity.
Looking in the audience, CDU supporter Michael says he wants AKK to take the upper hand: "We are looking for someone who can hold the party together, encourage a lively debate but can also get results and someone who will do it – in the middle term – be able to replace Mrs. Merkel as chancellor. "
Another supporter, Elke, worries that Angela Merkel is leaving a big gap. "We may need all three of them to fill this gap," he says.
this is the beginning of the end?
What no one is openly discussing here is the question that produces acres of columns of speculative newspapers.
Anyone who would like to write Mrs. Merkel's political obituary is often premature.
He says he intends to remain as chancellor and work alongside the new party president until 2021.
Much depends on who that person is. But few now think it's likely – including Jan Techau.
"At a time when the new president is in the conservative party, his power base will erode even more, the authority will diminish and, depending on who he is, that person will look for the deadlock and will look for the decision rather before then, so sitting out is unlikely. "
In a country where leadership lasts and change tends to be slow, the political season is starting to turn.