Angela Merkel said she took “full responsibility” for poor performance.
She said: “As chancellor and leader of the CDU I’m politically responsible for everything, for successes and for failures.
“When people are telling us what they think of how the government was formed and what they think of our work during the first seven months of this parliament… then it is a clear signal that things can’t carry on as they are.
“The time has come to open a new chapter.”
Angela Merkel also made it clear she would not handpick her successor as party leader and would “accept any democratic decision taken by my party”.
However, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer would be the obvious choice for Merkel loyalists to replace her. She is currently the party secretary.
Health Minister Jens Spahn, a leading critic of Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policies, has also announced his candidacy.
Friedrich Merz, a former leader of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group and an old rival to Angela Merkel, has thrown his hat into the ring.
Angela Merkel’s CDU plunged 11 percentage points to 27% in October 28 elections in the central state of Hesse, according to preliminary results. This was the CDU’s worst showing in the state since 1966.
The SPD, which is in coalition with the CDU nationally, fell by a similar amount to 19.8%.
The main beneficiaries were the Greens, who paradoxically share power with the CDU in the state and have now drawn level with the SPD, and the far-right AfD, who rose to 13%.
The Hesse vote follows a pattern of losses for the two main parties, with the AfD doing particularly well in eastern states.
Two weeks ago, the CDU’s Bavarian ally, the CSU, lost its absolute majority in the state’s parliament which it has dominated since 1957. Like in Hesse, the SPD also lost badly and the Greens and AfD surged.
While the Greens appear to have benefited from the SPD’s slump in support, it seems clear that the centre-right has lost voters to the AfD.
Part of the reason could be anger at Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to large numbers of refugees, a move which the AfD has vehemently opposed.
Helmut Kohl has won a legal battle to keep 200 tapes recording his political life.
A court in Cologne ruled against Helmut Kohl’s former ghost-writer, Heribert Schwan, who claimed copyright ownership of the tapes.
Helmut Kohl was Germany’s chancellor when the Cold War ended and he played a key role in German reunification in 1990.
The tapes, recorded in 2001, formed the basis of Helmut Kohl’s memoirs. They do not chronicle a big party funding scandal.
Heribert Schwan, a journalist, recorded a total of 630 hours with the former chancellor and published three volumes covering Helmut Kohl’s life and political career from 1930 to 1994.
Helmut Kohl has won a legal battle to keep 200 tapes recording his political life
But before the final volume could be finished the two men fell out, after Heribert Schwan released a book about Helmut Kohl’s first wife, Hannelore. As a result, Helmut Kohl’s memoirs detailing the last four years of his political career, until he lost power in 1998, have never been published.
This is a seen as a crucial period, because of the financing scandal which rocked his centre-right Christian Democrat (CDU) party, scarring its reputation for years.
The slush fund scandal was uncovered in 1999, when it was revealed that through the 1990s the CDU had received donations illegally under Helmut Kohl’s leadership. Secret bank accounts and illegal wire transfers from foreign banks had boosted CDU coffers.
Amid the public outrage, the party’s leaders were forced to step down, allowing Angela Merkel to take over as CDU leader. In 2005 she became Germany’s first female chancellor.
The tapes are valuable also because Helmut Kohl now has difficulties speaking, after a stroke and accident six years ago.
Helmut Kohl was modern Germany’s longest-serving chancellor, with a 16-year tenure, which coincided with the peaceful end of the Cold War.
His memories of that turbulent period in German history are viewed as historically crucial source material.
Although the judge ruled in favor of Helmut Kohl there was also an indirect criticism of him. In the judge’s view, the tapes are too important to be stored in someone’s cellar, but rather should be stored safely in a public archive.