Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.

“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”

Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”

A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.

That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.

“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”

Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.

Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.

“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.

That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.

“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”

Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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Germany Floods: Merkel Visits Region as Toll Continues to Mount

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday met with survivors and thanked volunteers as she made her way through a village wrecked by the extraordinary floods that have killed at least 183 people in Germany and Belgium, calling the level of destruction “surreal and eerie.”

As rescue teams continued searching for victims amid the wreckage and debris, heavy rains in the southern German region of Bavaria caused still more flooding on Sunday. The authorities said they expected the number victims to rise, as many hundreds of people remained unaccounted for, though it was unclear how many were simply unreachable by friends or family amid the chaos of the calamity and lost communications.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as Ms. Merkel arrived in Schuld, a formerly quaint village of half-timbered homes and cobbled streets on the banks of the Ahr River, rendered an unrecognizable tangle of debris covered in sticky brown mud by gushing waters last week. German meteorologists called the flooding the worst in 500 years, if not a millennium.

“The German language has no words, I think, for the devastation,” Ms. Merkel told reporters after touring the village. She pledged that her government would organize aid, immediately and in the midterm, as well as help to rebuild infrastructure.

was in Washington when the worst of the flooding struck on Thursday. She held video conferences with the leaders of the worst-affected regions after she returned on Friday. Saturday was her 67th birthday.

Despite her relative absence, Ms. Merkel has been shielded from public criticism by the sudden timing of the floods, the significance of her trip to Washington — considered an important step to restoring ties with the United States after the tumultuous Trump administration — her formidable political stature well into her fourth term as chancellor, and now her status as a lame duck.

Instead, most of the German news media have focused on how the candidates to replace her in September’s election have responded to the tragedy. All three of the main candidates in the race visited the stricken areas last week.

Still, after 16 years of guiding Europe’s largest and most powerful country through one calamity after the other — including the global economic downturn in 2008, the European debt crisis that followed, the arrival of more than one million migrants six years ago and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic — Germans have become accustomed to her approach of analyzing and contemplating a situation before deciding to act.

Ms. Merkel’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, said the government was working to organize several hundred million euros, or dollars, of immediate relief for those who lost their homes and their livelihoods in the floods.

On Saturday, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany visited the city of Erftstadt, where the raging waters washed away several homes and triggered a landslide; at least 16 residents there remain unaccounted for. He was accompanied by Armin Laschet, 60, the head of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the leading contender for the chancellery, who is the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

in a message on Twitter.

“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote, and he thanked Mr. Steinmeier for his visit. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”

Even as the country struggled to come to terms with the extent of the damage to the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, where Schuld is, heavy rains caused more flooding in Germany’s east and south, killing at least one person, in addition to the 112 people pronounced dead in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, where the interior minister said 45 people had died, more storms ripped through the south of the country.

Flooding in Belgium killed at least 27 people, local news media reported the authorities as saying. Dozens remained missing there, and rescue workers spent much of the day going door to door looking for anyone who had not been able to escape the rising waters in time.

That the authorities still lacked clarity on Sunday over how many people were missing four days after the floods struck reflected the severity of the damage caused to local infrastructure in Rhineland-Palatinate, said Malu Dreyer, the state’s governor.

“The water was still flowing up until a couple of days ago, we have mud and debris,” Ms. Dreyer said. “Now we have the police, soldiers and firefighters who are systematically combing through the whole region searching for the missing.”

Ms. Merkel said that in addition to the financial support from the government, the German Army and other emergency assistance organizations would remain in the area as long as needed.

“Everything we have is being put to use,” she said, “and still it is unbelievably painful for those who have lost loved ones, for those who still don’t know what has happened and for those facing the destruction of their livelihoods.”

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Chancellor’s Race Presents Germans With a Challenge to Change

“A Green candidacy for chancellor stands for a new understanding of political leadership,” Ms. Baerbock said. “Decisive and transparent, capable of learning and self-critical. Democracy thrives on change.”

Although the two leading candidates are the strongest contenders for the race, Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, 64, is also in the running for the Social Democrats. Traditionally the rivals of the Christian Democrats, with an emphasis on a strong safety net, the party has spent the past eight years relegated to being a junior partner in the chancellor’s governments.

But in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which has seen the government break its balanced budget to pay for 1.3 trillion euros, or $1.6 trillion, in compensation for the lockdowns and vaccines, the party could gain support with a smart campaign focused on social justice and Mr. Scholz’ willingness to spend to keep people afloat.

With the conservatives polling just below 30 percent, the Greens hovering just above 20 percent, followed by the Social Democrats at around 18 percent, what seems clear is that whichever party wins the election will have to build a coalition to govern.

One idea has been that the Greens would become the junior partner in a conservative-led government that would be more environmentally focused than the coalitions of the conservatives and Social Democrats led by Ms. Merkel, but still heavily influenced by the Christian Democrats.

But even if the conservative bloc emerges as the strongest force, the Greens, as the second-strongest party, could try to build a progressive government together with the Social Democrats and one of the smaller parties, either the liberal Free Democrats or the Left party, forcing the conservatives into opposition.

All three leading parties have ruled out a coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany, which wound up the biggest party in opposition after the Social Democrats joined the Christian Democrats in government in 2017.

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Greens Choose Baerbock as Candidate for Germany’s Next Leader

BERLIN — Germany’s Greens announced Monday that Annalena Baerbock would be the party’s candidate for chancellor, betting that the 40-year-old was their best choice to replace Angela Merkel as leader of the country.

By selecting Ms. Baerbock over her co-leader of the Greens, Robert Habeck, 51, the party is positioning itself to appeal not only to Germans drawn to its traditional stance on environmental protection, but as a more dynamic, youthful presence in a country that has been under the leadership of the same conservative chancellor for the past 16 years.

“I want to make an offer with my candidacy for the whole of society,” Ms. Baerbock said in her acceptance speech, in which she called for improving the situation for Germans in rural regions and for low-wage workers. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that Germany meets its goals for reducing its climate-change emissions, while remaining an industrial power.

“I was never a chancellor and never a minister,” Ms. Baerbock said. “I am running for renewal,” adding, “I believe this country needs a new start.”

Ms. Merkel will leave politics once a new government is formed after the Sept. 26 election, bringing an end to four terms in power and leaving her conservative bloc struggling to define itself without her. The conservatives, made up of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the much smaller Christian Social Union in Bavaria, are deadlocked in a battle to choose a candidate for chancellor that has gripped German politics for the past week.

Traditionally, the leader of the larger Christian Democrats is automatically considered the default conservative candidate for chancellor. But the Bavarian leader, Markus Söder, 54, has proved to be more popular among voters than Armin Laschet, 60, the Christian Democrat leader, and has demanded that he have the chance to run for the chancellery.

The conservatives have dominated modern Germany’s political landscape and have held the chancellery for all but seven of the past 30 years, when the Social Democrats led the country.

The Social Democrats have already selected Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister, as their candidate, so Ms. Baerbock will probably be the only woman in the running for the chancellery.

The Greens served as a junior coalition partner from 1998 to 2005. But with polls showing them in second place behind the conservatives, with support of around 22 percent, they have a serious crack at the chancellery for the first time since the party was formed in 1993.

“Annelena Baerbock is a fighting, focused woman who knows exactly what we want,” Mr. Haebeck said, announcing that she would be the party’s candidate.

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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Post-Merkel Germany May Be Shaded Green

Whatever government fills the vacuum in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel will be tinged with green.

After nearly 16 years in office, Ms. Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democrats, is slipping and stagnant, critics say — short of ideas on how to keep Germany vibrant and rich in a world where its industrial and export model is outdated; where faith in the United States has been damaged; and where China is more self-sufficient and Russia more aggressive.

The other traditional mainstay, the left-center Social Democrats, currently junior partners with Ms. Merkel, is in even worse shape, both electorally and ideologically.

The German Greens are filling the vacuum. Five months before elections in September, the party is running a close second in the opinion polls to the struggling Christian Democrats, and some think it might even lead the next government.

“They will be part of the next government,’’ said Norbert Röttgen, a prominent Christian Democrat, in a forecast widely shared in Germany. “Either a big part or even the leading part.’’

But these are not the Greens of the Cold War, a radical party appalled by the nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States over a divided Europe. The Greens are now centrist, eager for power, with a surprisingly gimlet-eyed view of international affairs and of how Germany needs to change without alienating big business.

If the Greens surge in Europe’s largest and richest country, it would be a watershed not only for the party but for all of Europe, where it already is part of the governing coalitions in six countries.

It would also potentially herald a shift toward a more assertive foreign policy in Germany, especially toward China and Russia, as global politics is becoming a competition between authoritarian and democratic ideals.

“This is a different party, a different generation, a different setting and a different world,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, a Green member of the European Parliament. “With Covid, climate and common global challenges clearer to many, it’s easier to push for a transformative green agenda in the classic sense.”

“But the confrontation with authoritarianism is now clear,” he added, “and that puts us in a different place.”

Jana Puglierin, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said: “The Greens are the only party that can rock the boat a bit, especially on China and Russia. They will strike a better balance between the economy and human rights.’’

Led by two pragmatists, or “realos,” the German Greens honor their “fundis,” the more idealistic among them, without allowing them to marginalize the party, as in the past.

The party’s co-chairs are Robert Habeck, 51, and Annalena Baerbock, 40, who is considered the most likely chancellor candidate. The choice is expected on Monday; she would be the only woman in the race to replace Ms. Merkel.

With the environment central to their program, the Greens represent the current zeitgeist. Its leaders argue that correct economic policies can produce a Germany that is digital, modern and carbon neutral, no longer so dependent on old-fashioned industrial production, however sophisticated.

They oppose Nord Stream 2, the Russian natural-gas pipeline to Germany that circumvents Ukraine and Poland. They also oppose the European Union’s investment deal with China. They are committed to European cooperation, democracy promotion, the defense of human rights, Germany’s membership in NATO and its strong alliance with the United States.

While the Greens consider NATO’s goal of military spending of 2 percent of gross domestic product to be arbitrary, the party favors more spending to ensure that the woefully weak German military is able to meet its NATO responsibilities.

Even Mr. Röttgen, the Christian Democrat who is chairman of the Bundestag foreign policy committee, said that “however embarrassing for me, the Greens have the clearest stance of all the parties on China and Russia.”

They would make “a much more realistic and preferable partner for us on foreign policy,” he said.

Wolfgang Streeck, a leftist German economist, once famously called the Greens “the vegetarian section of the Christian Democrats,” noted Hans Kundnani of Chatham House, a research organization based in London. In the way the party criticizes Russia and China on the grounds of democracy and human rights, Mr. Kundnani said, it is similar to American neoconservatives.

“The German Greens are now a pragmatist centrist party,” said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “They want to be part of the government and play a big role, with a focus on greening the economy. They think there are enough in business who understand that this is the future.”

Foreign policy is secondary, Mr. Speck said. “But the democracy agenda matters, and they position themselves in solidarity with opposition democrats in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and China. And they are very tough on China.”

In Germany, the Greens are already part of governing coalitions with a variety of other parties in 11 of the 16 German states, and were just re-elected to head the government in Baden-Württemberg, where the car industry is important.

In fact, argued Arne Jungjohann, a political analyst with Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Greens are flexible enough to go into coalition with any party, except the far-right Alternative for Germany.

In Britain and Western European countries like France, the Greens are more modest and leftist, committed to the environment. But even there, they are benefiting from the weakness of more established parties.

In six countries, Mr. Jungjohann said, they are already in government. They are part of the governing coalitions in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden.

In Europe’s south and in post-Communist Europe, as in the east of Germany itself, the Greens are not such a big factor, though they are more popular with the urban young.

One of Germany’s main problems is that its successful economic model has become a trap, argued John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany who still lives there.

“They haven’t done very well with digital, but found a market in China for their 19th-century products,” he said. “The Chinese at this point still need them and buy them, but at some point soon China will make all that themselves.”

The other establishment parties “believe that Germany’s existence depends on this 19th-century machine-tool economy,” he said.

Alone among the main parties, the Greens have a vision for a Germany that is digital, climate neutral, deeply committed to the European Union, to democratic values and gender equality. A party that, as Ms. Puglierin said, believes that the future is no longer the diesel Mercedes but the electric Tesla.

Still, the party has had to dance carefully over issues of the military, security and nuclear policy, where idealism confronts the world as it is, and where soft power is not always matched with hard power.

“A test will come, because the reality of foreign policy is not just value-driven, but you need to define your interests,’’ Mr. Lagodinsky said.

True to its roots, the party calls for a Germany without U.S. nuclear weapons. But it has also been careful to hedge its election manifesto.

“They want a world without nuclear weapons, but acknowledge that it will take time to get there — they’ll first have to find other ways to reassure eastern and central European partners,” said Sophia Besch, an analyst with the Center for European Reform in Berlin.

They want close cooperation with France on Europe but are less enamored of French ideas for a European army; are ambivalent about a new European air combat system that could carry nuclear bombs and armed drones; and would be strict about exports of arms to customers like Saudi Arabia.

They would also be strict about how and when German forces could engage overseas, even in coalitions of the willing, in the absence of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

But what may be most important for Germany, Ms. Puglierin noted, is that the Greens would at least produce new, needed debates on long-suppressed topics, like the ambivalent German policies toward China and Russia, let alone German dependency on the combustion engine.

“The Greens are the only chance to see real change in German foreign policy,” she said. “We’ve been so status-quo oriented in the Merkel years.”

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Election Year in Germany Kicks Off With Voting in Two States

BERLIN — Voters in two southwestern German states are kicking off an election year on Sunday that could change the course of Europe’s largest economy after 16 years under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be stepping down after a new government is sworn in.

The elections in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate are the first in a year that will see voting for new legislators in four more states, and for the country’s Parliament, which will be elected in September.

Sunday’s voting is taking place after largely muted election campaigns that were overshadowed by the threat of the coronavirus and by lockdowns. While neither race will serve as a clear bellwether for the fall election, the outcomes could indicate how voters are feeling about the two leading parties, the conservatives and the Greens, and help focus the contest for Ms. Merkel’s replacement.

“It is an unbelievably exciting election year,” said Thorsten Faas, a professor of political science at Berlin’s Free University. “A lot is still open, creating the possibility for movement in various directions.”

Armin Laschet, who took who took over as leader of the Christian Democratic Union in January.

Normally the party would put forward its leader as the candidate in the race for the chancellor, but Mr. Laschet has so far proved to be less popular with the German public than the governor of Bavaria, Markus Söder, who could instead be tapped as the conservative candidate.

Mr. Söder, who is also the head of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, has raised his profile as someone who takes tough, decisive action to halt the spread of the pandemic in his state, closing the border to Austria and sending vaccines to help the beleaguered Czech Republic.

Mr. Laschet has said the conservatives will decide in the coming months whether the head of the Christian Democratic Union or the head of the Christian Social Union will run in September as the conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor. But if the Christian Democrats take a beating in Sunday’s elections, they might decide faster.

Whoever is selected will face the Greens’ candidate, who has yet to be named, and Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, who is running for the Social Democrats.

Support for the Greens has nearly doubled since the election in 2017, making them the second strongest party heading into the national election, after the conservatives and ahead of the Social Democrats.

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