A lighthearted, first-day-of-school atmosphere settled inside the historic Reichstag building in Berlin on Tuesday, as Germany's 20th legislative period began with a five-hour session in the Bundestag.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was present, but watching from an unfamiliar vantage point: the spectators' gallery, alongside Germany's head of state, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Though she remains in office, Merkel's normal seat at the front of the government benches was empty — waiting to be filled by a successor currently being negotiated in the ongoing coalition talks.
Some 27 new seats had to be fitted into the chamber in the month since the election, with a total of 736 parliamentarians, a new high, now to be accommodated.
The new parliament is also younger and more diverse, though it still cannot be said to accurately reflect the German population. With an average age of 47, this is the youngest Bundestag in decades. Some 34% of the parliamentarians are female, a higher proportion than the last parliament, though not higher than the one before.
Around 11% of the members are of immigrant background, the highest proportion ever, but still lower than the 26% in the German population.
Fittingly, Tuesday's agenda included the dawn of an era: the election of a new Bundestag president. The winner, with 576 votes to 90, was the well-regarded Social Democrat nominee Bärbel Bas, a health policy specialist and only the third woman ever to take up the office.
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