- Exit Polling shows Angela Merkel is set to become German Chancellor for a fourth time, as her party won a double-digit victory over their nearest rival. She seems pleased with the result, describing it as a good result after "an incredibly difficult legislative period."
- The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored a better-than-expected result in the exit polls, set to win 13 percent or higher and thus become the third largest party in the Bundestag.
- Polling stations closed at 6pm, and exit polls immediately showed the Social Democrats (SPD) had slumped to a historic low in support.
- The SPD have already ruled out joining another coalition, something other parties have called irresponsible. The only other possible coalition is Merkel's Union joining up with the Free Democrats and the Greens. But big ideological differences between the parties mean we might not have a new government until the new year.
9.20 - Merkel ‘optimistic' she can build coalition before Christmas
There was no love lost between the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) during the ARD TV round table, with FDP man Christian Lindner accusing the Greens of being idealistic and not realistic. Green party head Katrin Göring-Eckardt replied that she would put the environment at the centre of any coalition agreement, adding that she saw little common ground with the FDP. If a coalition is to be built though, it will most likely involve these two parties.
But Merkel finished the show by saying that she was “optimistic” she could build a coalition by the end of the year.
“Power lies in calmness,” she said, repeating the idea she had put across through the evening i.e. that when all the parties had had a good night's sleep they would see everything differently.
The Local's Shelley Pascual has been visiting the HQ of the SPD who suffered a historic defeat in the election.
8.50pm - A testy debate is going on on TV between heads of all the parties
Merkel is on ARD debating the leaders of the other six parties. Most of the debate has been about the AfD and what to do about them.
AfD chairman Jörg Methuen has tried to defend his party, claiming that there are no racists or right-wing populists among their members, a statement that brought incredulous responses from the ARD journalists and the other party leaders.
SPD leader Schulz has also been forced into a corner over the fact that he has already ruled out joining a coalition. FDP leader Lindner told him it was his responsibility in uncertain political times to leave all options open.
Polling by Infratest dimap shows that the AfD were the second biggest party overall in former East Germany. Among east German men they were the largest party, with 26 percent of east German males giving them their vote. Women were much less likely to vote for the far-right party. In west Germany 8 percent of women gave the AfD their vote.
Video from the balcony of the location in central Berlin where the AfD election party is being held shows protests growing quickly.
“It's getting louder and bigger and there are the first signs of violence,” a ZDF journalist inside the building observes.
8.10 pm - AfD voters worried about terrorism, refugees and criminality
Polling by broadcaster ARD shows that the main issues that concerned people who voted for the AfD were terrorism, criminality and refugee arrivals. The polling also showed that people who voted AfD were most likely to have done so due to disappointment at the other parties rather than through conviction in what the AfD stood for.
This analysis from AFP:
Merkel and her conservative alliance's options for a future coalition are more complicated than thought.
After voters handed it its worst score in post-war history, the Social Democratic Party said it would not return to a coalition under Merkel.
That means that Merkel would have to look to the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which has staged a comeback this year after four years in the political wilderness.
But scoring at around 10 percent, the business-friendly FDP does not have sufficient votes to form a majority with Merkel.
The chancellor would therefore have to include the Greens, which obtained around 9 percent of the vote.
But keeping cohesion between the right-flank of her party and Bavarian allies -- who are staunch defenders of the scandal-tainted automotive industry, and the environmental party calling for combustion motors to be phased out, would be only one of many tough issues to thrash out.
As such, no one should hold their breath for a coalition to emerge swiftly after the last votes are counted.
Negotiations for a new government are likely to drag on to year's end.
The shape of the next coalition will determine how Germany relates to Europe and the world.
This year's election campaign has been largely devoid of international issues.
But Germany has been dubbed a beacon of stability in a world buffeted by Donald Trump's election in the United States, Britain's decision to quit the European Union, and increasing friction within the EU over political tensions in Hungary and Poland.
As such, it is being asked to shoulder more international responsibilities, including through greater military engagement in the world's trouble spots.
"Germany is finding itself confronted with changes from elsewhere, and the geopolitical upheavals run counter to its traditional attraction to the east and its attachment to an alliance with the United States. It's a brutal change," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Brussels-based Robert Schuman Foundation.
A graphic from broadcaster ZDF shows how the SPD and CDU votes have come in in every election since the Second World War. Both parties are set to record miserable results, if the exit polls are accurate. It will be the worst SPD result ever, and the CDU's worst since the 1940s.
7.10pm - ‘What happened in history should never happen again'
The Local's Shelley Pascual has been speaking to protesters outside the AfD election party. One young woman said she is there to tell the AfD that ‘what happened in history should never happen again'.
6.53pm - Merkel seems very pleased with herself
The Chancellor seems pretty pleased with herself, grinning slyly to the audience and lapping up their rapturous applause.
“I don't want to avoid the fact that we wanted a better result. But we have just been through an incredibly difficult legislative period'.
“It is our responsibility to build a coalition and no government will be built against us,” she said to loud applause.
“After 12 years in government it was everything but a given thing that we would stay the most powerful party in the country.”
The Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel's CDU are used to wiping the floor with the opposition in Bavaria, where they have held power unchallenged for decades. But exit polls put them on 38.5 percent, a drop of over 10 percent in 2013.
The SPD said they would go into opposition rather than enter a new coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party after they suffered their worst post-war results in Sunday's election.
"We will take on the opposition mandate," said SPD deputy chief Manuela Schwesig after exit polls gave it 20 to 21 percent.
Thomas Oppermann, who leads the SPD in parliament, confirmed that "the place of the SPD is in the opposition".
The top candidate of Germany's hard-right and anti-immigration AfD party pledged Sunday to "change this country" after winning historic first seats in parliament.
"We will go after (Chancellor Angela) Merkel," added Alexander Gauland, whose party became the country's third strongest with around 13 percent, vowing to "reclaim our country and our people".
The Local's Shelley Pascual is outside the location in central Berlin where the AfD are having their election party. She says there is a big police presence there as anti-AfD protesters have gathered to heckle the party.
6.15pm - ARD exit poll even worse reading for Merkel
A second exit poll by broadcaster ARD makes for even worse reading for Merkel. It puts her CDU party and its Bavarian CSU sister party at 32.5 percent and governing partner the SPD on a historical low of 20 percent. It also gives the AfD 13.5 percent of the vote, better than any poll before the election predicted.
If these figures are accurate it will prove to have been an exceptionally bad day for the parties which have ruled Germany for the last four years.
Merkel's party have won a clear victory, the exit polls indicate, and she will remain Chancellor. But coalition building will be far from straightforward. It is unlikely the SPD will want to stay in government after this results, meaning a three way coalition will have to be built, something never down on the federal level.
If the ARD exit poll is accurate, the AfD will have 89 MPs in the next Bundestag. Merkel's CDU/CSU will hold 216 seat and the SPD will be on 133. Meanwhile Greens, FDP and Die Linke will all have between 60 and 70 seats.
The polling stations closed at 6pm across Germany and the first exit poll from broadcaster ZDF predicted a strong result for the AfD, putting them on 13.2 percent. If the exit poll is accurate the AfD will become the third largest party in the Bundestag.
Merkel's CDU performed worse than expected according to the prediction, scoring only 33.3 percent. According to the poll, the SPD scored their worst ever result at only 20.8 percent.
By 5.10pm some 89.3 percent of voters in Munich had made their voices count. That is a big leap in comparison with 2013 (70.6 percent turnout). If this turnout is repeated across the country it could well make the polls that have been conducted before the election look rather erroneous. We will see this evening if these extra votes are against the controversial AfD or people the far-right have mobilized.
5.45 - A 'harmonious day' in Munich
The Local has spoken to 27-year-old Jana in Munich. She told us that she went all in with the Green party, giving them her first and second votes. She then went to a drum concert full of old hippies in the park. It was a “stimmiger Tag” (harmonious day) she said, possibly also making a bad pun on the fact that she had voted (stimmen).
The hour of truth is almost upon us (voting stops at 6pm) and the party leaders are gathering at their election parties to celebrate (or commiserate). According to DPA, the wine has been flowing in large quantities at the CDU party for a while now.
Dinner time is approaching, so perhaps it's time to think about how one would best serve the German political leaders if one were throwing a soirée. When cooking a cut of Merkel, seasoning is everything, as Jörg Luyken explains.
5.02pm - Germans 'more reasonable' than Brits, Americans
The Local's Shelley Pascual has been speaking to voters in the central Berlin Mitte district. One man in his mid-30s told her that he wasn't worried about the outcome because Germans are "more reasonable" than Americans and the British.
Shelley spoke to another voter in central Berlin who had the far-right on his mind.
4.58pm - Here's how Germany democracy works
We have written an explainer which tells you everything important you need to know about German democracy, from its voting system to its division of powers.
A little piece of analysis from The Local's Jörg Luyken:
From the outside it may seem like Merkel is coasting her way to a fourth term as Chancellor in yet another slumber-inducing German election. It is true that polling shows Merkel on her way to a comfortable victory. That isn't the whole story though.
This is in fact the most contentious election since 2005, if not longer and Merkel's party are sure to sustain heavy losses. So far today it appears that turnout is up on 2013 (if you include postal votes) and that is most likely down to two interrelated things: Merkel's refugee policies and the AfD.
Merkel has been booed and heckled all along the campaign trail, something she isn't used to. Her hecklers come from the right, people who are angry at her for a refugee policy that led to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers entering the country in late 2015 and early 2016.
These protest voters, or Wutbürger as the German media calls them, likely include many who didn't vote at the last election and their party of choice will be the AfD, who talk of refugee arrivals in apocalyptic terms. (On Saturday their chairwoman said Muslim migration was “destroying Europe.”)
On the other hand, you have the voters protesting the protest party. Many Germans have expressed the sentiment: “go out to vote just to make sure the AfD don't get into the Bundestag.” Among young people in particular there isn't much to distinguish the AfD from a neo-Nazi party. People who have been put off by the consensus politics of the grand coalition could still be going out to vote today just to try and make sure the AfD get as few seats in the next parliament as possible.
The Local's Shelley Pascual is in Mitte, the constituency in central Berlin won by the Social Democrats last time round. She has met a young woman who has given her vote to the Green Party because their themes “align with her beliefs.”
4.10pm - Nationwide figures show turnout is down
By 2pm 41.1 percent of voters had gone to a polling station and voted, a slight decrease from 2013 when the number was 41.4 percent. But these figures don't include postal votes which are expected to reach a record high this year. Where postal votes have been included in figures at the local level, the picture is very different. By 2pm in Munich 71.6 percent of the public had voted, up from 57.1 percent four years ago.
In 2013 some 71.5 percent of voters cast their ballot. The lowest ever turnout was in 2009 when 70.8 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. Even this figure was better than turnout in any UK election since 1997. Meanwhile turnout in Germany trounces that in the US where around 55 percent of the voting public cast a ballot last year.
In most other European countries it's not usual for parties to aggressively target voters in other languages. But Merkel has taken out adverts in Turkish, the AfD have billboards in Russian and the SPD have printed their elections flyers in seven different languages.
We have looked into why the parties have been doing this.
The Local's Shelley Pascual is in the constituency of Pankow in northeast Berlin. Die Linke (the Left Party) won the seat in 2013 with 25 percent of the vote. But it was a tight race with the Merkel's CDU and the centre-left SPD.
The voters Shelley spoke to there were all voting for left-wing parties or parties out of the leftfield.
Henriette, 24, said: “I definitely didn't vote for the AfD. I voted for a more left-leaning party.”
Another voter, a 40-year-old Berlin man, said he voted the same today as four years ago. “I voted for Die Linke because they're on the right path,” he said.
Meanwhile, she also met a supporter of an obscure hip hop party (read below).
Earlier this month we spoke to the founder of one of the more curious parties running for election this year.
Raphael Hillebrand, founder of “Die Urbane - Eine Hip Hop Partei,” told us why hip hop and politics are such a good fit.
Shelley Pascual met Hillebrand and now she has met someone planning to vote for the hip hop party because it's "more personal."
The man also apparently knows one of the leaders of the party and likes them "because they don't take themselves too seriously." So not sure how much to read into this one vote.
3.15pm - More signs that turnout is up on 2013
In NRW, the German state with the biggest population, turnout is up so far by 3 percent in comparison with 2013. In Berlin turnout is also up on the last national election, albeit only marginally. Nationwide figures will be released at 3.30pm.
3.00pm - Words you'll need on election night
If you are planning to watch the results come in this evening on German TV and your political jargon is a bit rusty, we give you the most important words, which you'll be hearing repeatedly throughout the evening.
2.50pm Merkel has voted!
The most exciting point of the day so far has just taken place. The Chancellor has dropped her ballot into the box. She did it calmly and confidently, getting the ballot into the box at the first time of asking, and with a smile that said 'been there, done that'.
Interestingly, she has voted in Berlin and not in her own constituency in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, so she won't have had the satisfaction of putting a cross next to her own name.
2.40pm - OSCE teams in place to ensure no fraud takes place
Teams of election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are present at polling booths to make sure nothing untoward is taking place. There are around 60 of them who have to cover the whole country, so they have their work cut out.
“We aren't an election police,” one of the observers told DPA. The OSCE has said that it believes everything will be done by the book, but has also mentioned that some parties have expressed concerns. They could be referring to the AfD, who felt hard done by after their vote wasn't counted properly in a state election in NRW earlier this year.
2.20pm President Steinmeier among big names to vote early
Frank-Walter Steinmeier queues to vote In Berlin Zehlendorf. Photo: DPA
Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier went out to vote this morning in west Berlin. DPA also has pictures of Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel popping his voting slip in the ballot box. Merkel still hasn't voted, as far as we can tell.
2.11pm Will Erdogan sway Turkish-German vote?
Last month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turkish voters to boycott three of Germany's major political parties.
We have looked into how much impact that statement is likely to have by speaking to voters and experts in North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state with the biggest Turkish community.
2.10pm - Last poll shows AfD on the up
A poll published Friday by INSA shows the CDU and the Social Democrats losing more support, while the AfD continue to grow in popularity.
The poll puts the CDU on 34 percent, the SPD on 21 percent and the AfD on 13 percent. These numbers make depressing reading for the two major parties, who have ruled together for the last four years. It would mark a historic low result for the SDP and one of the worst ever results for the CDU.
Meanwhile, several outrageous statements by AfD leader Alexander Gauland in recent weeks, including that Germany should be proud of the achievements of soldiers in the Second World War, seem if anything to have helped his party. In the early summer their polling figures had slipped to close to the 5 percent cut off mark, but they've bounced back now, as most polls indicate.
1.45pm - Turnout up so far on 2013
DPA reports on information from election managers in several large cities that turnout is up on 2013, when the last national election was held.
In Hamburg, 37 percent of voters had already handed in their ballot by 11am, a two percent increase on four years ago. The people of Munich were even more efficient - 57.1 percent had voted by midday, way up on the 44.3 percent who had done so by the same time in 2013.
Turnout in Stuttgart was also higher than last time around, but still only 19.6 percent of the people of the southern city had voted by midday. Why people in Stuttgart leave it late to vote is a mystery we cannot answer. We would guess turnout in Berlin is even lower, but that's just based on the lazy prejudice that no one here gets up before midday.