German election: Not so boring now, is it?

The election which had been billed as "boring" has turned out to be rather less so.

Cliffhangers in America, France and The Netherlands had made the German vote look less interesting - especially as Angela Merkel was certain to return as chancellor.

But it is clear that, behind her re-election, there have been some dramatic, historic changes to German politics this weekend.

Some key takeaways:

Historic and controversial gains for the far-right?

Yes - exit polls say the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party have won more than 13% of the vote, making them the third most popular party in Germany.

This is an extraordinary achievement for a party only formed four years ago and, for many, it will be seen as a hugely controversial achievement given Germany's history.

Last week, Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made his view of the AfD clear when he said voting for them would put the "Nazis back in the Reichstag".

:: Who is Angela Merkel?

:: Who is Martin Schulz?

:: Who are the AfD?

Many will blame Merkel for the AfD success.

Her open door policy towards refugees and migrants caused significant concern across Germany, with many questioning if the country could cope with the influx.

The AfD, which was formed predominately as a euro-sceptic party, shifted its focus onto anti-immigrant, anti-Islam - which has clearly resonated with a proportion of the population.

In the last federal election in 2013 - the year the AfD was formed - they achieved just 4.8% of the vote.

Their radical politics have resonated.

It looks as though the AfD did extremely well in what was once East Germany - perhaps even becoming the second largest party there.

Economically, the eastern half of Germany is less well-off and has prospered much less since reunification.

More broadly an increased vote for extreme parties?

Again - yes.

It defies convention that, at a time when Germany is largely prosperous and with low unemployment, exit polls suggest that more than 22% of voters have chosen to edge far to the left or right.

That's up from just over 12% in 2013.

It's likely that voting abstentions helped add to the gains by more radical parties.

But on the flip side - around 78% of voters still chose moderate parties.

And as the former editor of Die Zeit hinted at on Sunday night it's notable that Merkel won in spite of (or for a huge proportion because of) her decision to allow more than one million refugees into the country.

A further four years for Europe's most powerful and influential leader?

Yes - Barring something unexpected, Merkel will now be Germany's leader until 2021 - 16 years in power.

She is already Europe's most influential leader and the world's most powerful woman.

However, she is significantly weakened by this election.

Her monopoly on power has been dented with voters turning further to the right and to the left.

The polls didn't predict a dent this big. It is the second worst result for the CDU since 1949.

A terrible night for the SPD?

Yes - they will see it as a lesson on the damage a grand coalition can do to the junior partner.

For the past four years, the SPD have partnered with Merkel's CDU.

Because of this, SPD leader Martin Schulz has struggled to differentiate himself and his party from Merkel's CDU.

The same happened to the FDP liberal party in 2013.

They had been in coalition with Merkel for the previous four years and were wiped out in 2013 as a result.

The FDP - liberals - have made a comeback this time though?

Yes - time out from government has helped.

They scored 4.8% of the vote in 2013 - short of the 5% threshold to get seats in the parliament.

This time they secured more than 10%. Still less than the AfD - but a success nonetheless.

So what now?

Either a coalition or a CDU minority government.

The SPD have decided they want time in opposition now (given their battering) and have ruled out another grand coalition.

Merkel could look to form a Jamaica Coalition (so-called because of the colours of the parties who make it up).

If she can persuade the Greens and the FDP to come into government, then she'll have her coalition.

The problem is that their policies are not all that aligned - greens and conservatives are not natural allies.

The other option is a minority CDU government propped up by SPD support.

The SDP decision not to join a coalition and instead sit on the opposition side makes them the main opposition party.

Had they gone into government with Merkel, the main opposition party would have been the far right AfD.

The influence on Brexit?

Everything from a British perspective is now seen through the prism of Brexit.

The British government has repeatedly suggested that once the German election is over, Merkel's focus will return to Brexit and her pan-EU influence will allow for compromises in favour of the UK.

But that's not necessarily true.

If she goes for the Jamaica coalition option, there are still many weeks or even months of coalition building to be done before a government is formed. It is likely to be the New Year at the earliest.

In that instance, there is a chance that once the government is formed, the pro-business FDP will put pressure on Merkel to cut the UK some slack to ensure that German business isn't damaged by a hard Brexit.

However, the counter argument is that Germany will put the integrity of the single market over a short-term hit on the German economy.

A minority CDU government with SDP support is unlikely to change the German position on Brexit from its present one.

What does it mean for the rest of Europe?

France's Emmanuel Macron will be upset.

He wanted a stronger Merkel to help him push through eurozone reforms. This will now prove more complicated. German politics has just become more fragmented.