The rally was meant to shore up support for Mr. Laschet, but for townspeople and tourists alike, it turned into an opportunity to catch a last glimpse of the woman whose outsize role in their country and in Europe has influenced their lives since November 2005.

Christine Braun, a member of the Christian Democrats in Stralsund, said that Mr. Laschet would be getting her vote, but he was not the reason she was standing in the driving rain on a chilly September night.

“I came to honor Ms. Merkel, our chancellor and representative,” she said, adding that throughout her 30 years representing the constituency, Ms. Merkel would visit regularly, attending meetings and engaging with the community. “She remained approachable and down-to-earth.”

Vilana Cassing and Tim Taugnitz, both students in their early 20s, were vacationing in Stralsund and saw the posters advertising the event and Ms. Merkel’s attendance. They decided to attend more out of curiosity to see the woman who had shaped their lives than out of political interest.

They described their political leanings as “leftist-Green,” saying they would vote on Sunday, but not for Mr. Laschet.

“I think it is good if the Christian Democrats go into opposition,” Mr. Taugnitz said.

That could happen. On Sunday, voters will go to the polls, though many may have already done so, with the pandemic resulting in an unusually high number of requests for mail-in ballots — a form of voting that has been around in Germany since 1957 and that organizers assure is safe.

Should the Social Democrats emerge as the strongest party, they would still need to find at least one partner to form a government. While that means that the roles could be reversed, with the Christian Democrats as the junior partners under Mr. Scholz, more likely is a center-left alliance led by the Social Democrats together with the Greens and the business friendly Free Democrats.

Mr. Laschet has been warning against the threat posed by such an alliance, seeking to paint the other parties as a danger to the prosperity that Germans have enjoyed under Ms. Merkel.

“It’s completely wrong what the S.P.D. and the Left and the Greens are planning,” Mr. Laschet told the crowd on Tuesday, referring to pledges to increase taxes on the country’s highest earners. “They should invest and create jobs.”

Ms. Merkel instead sought to praise Mr. Laschet and Georg Günther, who hopes to win the seat in Parliament that she is vacating after 30 years, for their achievements. She expressed confidence that both men would continue the course that she had set and urged her supporters to back them.

“Several times today I have reported my shoe size,” Ms. Merkel told the crowd in Stralsund. Nodding to Mr. Günther and smiling, she said that he could “manage” to fill her shoes — European size 38, or U.S. 7 and a half. Then she turned to Mr. Laschet and added, “he is the one who can do it,” at the chancellery.

Listening from the sidelines, Thilo Haberstroh, a native of the southwestern city of Karlsruhe who was in Stralsund on business and only happened on the rally by chance, said he wasn’t convinced that anyone in the running had what it takes to be the next chancellor of Germany.

“This was interesting, but none of them have really made an impression on me,” he said. “I still don’t know who I will get my vote on Sunday.”

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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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A Bitter Family Feud Dominates the Race to Replace Merkel

BERLIN — With less than six months to go before Germans cast their ballots for a new chancellor, the political vacuum Angela Merkel leaves behind after 16 years of consensus-oriented leadership is coming more sharply into focus.

A rare and rancorous power struggle has gripped Germany’s conservatives this week as two rivals vie to replace her, threatening to further hobble her Christian Democratic Union, which is already sliding in the polls.

Normally, Armin Laschet, 60, who was elected in January to lead the party, would almost assuredly be the heir apparent to Ms. Merkel. Instead, he finds himself unexpectedly pitted against his biggest rival, Markus Söder, the more popular head of a smaller, Bavaria-only party, the Christian Social Union, in a kind of conservative family feud.

Experts and party members alike are calling for the dispute to be resolved within the coming days, as it risks damaging the reputation of the two conservative parties, jointly referred to as the Union. Because the two parties operate as one on the national stage, they must choose one candidate for chancellor.

“Armin Laschet and Markus Söder must finally understand their responsibility toward the Union,” Tilman Kuban, head of the Young Union, told the Bild daily on Thursday. “If they continue to tear one another apart as they have in the past few days, together they will ensure that there won’t be much left of the Christian Democrats or the Christian Socialists in the future.”

Leading Ms. Merkel’s party would have once been seen as an advantage for Mr. Laschet, but it has recently become a drag. With a botched vaccine rollout and a confusing response to the pandemic, support for the conservatives has plunged by 10 percentage points since the start of the year.

After a series of personal gaffes, Mr. Laschet’s popularity has been dropping. In his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia more than half of the population have said they are not happy with his performance, and a poll this week showed only 4 percent of Germans nationwide see him as “a strong leader.”

At the same time, Mr. Söder, 54, who is also governor of Bavaria, has artfully used several appearances alongside Ms. Merkel after pandemic-related meetings to burnish his image as a man in charge, capable of tackling tough issues and getting things done.

A full 57 percent of Germans said Mr. Söder displayed the qualities of “a strong leader.”

Keenly aware of his popularity, Mr. Söder began openly pushing for the candidacy earlier this week, citing his strong, stable showing in the polls over Mr. Laschet, despite warnings from senior conservatives that public opinion could be fickle.

“At the end of the day, the conservative parties have to make an offer that will be acceptable to voters and the people, and not just a few party functionaries,” Mr. Söder told Bavarian public television. “Of course polls are not everything, but if after several months a clear trend emerges, it cannot just be ignored.”

After leading conservative lawmakers discussed the issue on Sunday, Mr. Söder said he was willing to run, if the Christian Democrats would support him. If not, he added, he would cooperate, “without any grudges.”

But on Monday, after the boards of each party had backed their own leader, Mr. Söder suddenly changed his position. He continued to push for his right to run for chancellor during a closed-door meeting of conservative lawmakers on Tuesday. After four hours of discussions, nearly two-thirds of those present expressed their support for the Bavarian leader — including members of Mr. Laschet’s party.

In a country that views the art of compromise as a valuable skill for a leader, the public game of political chicken could come at a high price. At a time when the environmentalist Greens have rapidly risen in popularity and are now nipping at the conservatives’ heels, they can ill afford such a public display of disharmony.

“At the end of the day, both have to decide between themselves. There is no set procedure that clearly defines how this will end,” said Prof. Thorsten Fass, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University. Regardless of who runs as the candidate, the damage of the fight will still have to be repaired, Professor Fass said. “It is not a good way to start an election year.”

Both contenders have said they would like the matter to be decided by the end of the week, and pressure from inside both parties is growing for a quick resolution.

Four other political parties are vying to win the most votes on Sept. 26 and seize power by forming a government and naming a chancellor.

The center-left Social Democrats, who have been the junior party in Ms. Merkel’s government coalition since 2017, have already named the finance minister and vice-chancellor, Olaf Scholz, as their choice for chancellor. The Greens, currently polling as the second-strongest party ahead of the Social Democrats and close behind the conservatives, are scheduled to announce their candidate on Monday.

Not everyone is ready to count out Mr. Laschet yet. He is a politician whose recent successes, winning the governorship of North Rhine-Westphalia over a well-liked incumbent and the monthslong race for the Christian Democrat leadership in January, both saw him grasping victory after coming from behind.

Mr. Laschet also has the backing of some of the most senior and influential members of his party, including the former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been around since the first time the conservatives split over a chancellor candidate in 1979.

“If Laschet has the nerve and still has his party’s leadership behind him, then Söder could say that he accepts this, then use his position to negotiate a strong minister post for his party in a potential future government,” said Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education in Tutzing.

On the other hand, if enough pressure from within the party builds on Mr. Laschet, he could concede to Mr. Söder for the sake of the party and the need to move ahead. That would hand the Bavarian leader a victory that would serve to enforce his reputation as a sharp-witted maverick who will change his policies to fit the public mood. As public favor in Bavaria shifted from the far-right Alternative for Germany party to the environmentalist Greens, he abandoned an anti-immigrant stance and embraced a push to save honey bees, to the ire of farmers who have long formed the grass roots of his party.

“He is intelligent, quick and rhetorically strong,” Ms. Münch said of Mr. Söder. “He is able to push people into a corner while keeping a back door open for himself, and in that sense, Laschet can’t hold a candle to him.”

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