Ms. Merkel went to Bellevue Palace to meet Mr. Steinmeier on Monday. How times have changed.
In 2009, when Frank-Walter Steinmeier stood as the Social Democrat candidate for chancellor, he lost to Angela Merkel.
Now, after 12 years in office and despite having been the most powerful woman in the world, Ms. Merkel's position is much weaker, while President Steinmeier will guide parliament and the country along the next steps.
He started out working for Gerhard Schröder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, his mentor, and a big, charismatic personality Mr. Steinmeier could not hope to match.
Preferring to work behind the scenes, Mr Steinmeier is more a fixer and as foreign minister, he shone when, shuttling between Kiev and Moscow, he helped deescalate tensions after Russia annexed Crimea.
Some have called Mr. Steinmeier aloof and uncharismatic but after countless state visits – Moscow, Athens, Israel, Palestine – he picked up a matey Maori greeting in New Zealand.
That New Zealand trip was clearly relaxed: Mr. Steinmeier and his wife also squeezed in a hike, miles from Zehlendorf, the leafy Berlin suburb they call home.
Mr. Steinmeier also maintains strong links to his first home in North Rhine-Westphalia, where he still supports the local soccer team. Here he shares a joke with SPD leaders Gerhard Schroeder and Martin Schulz during a Dortmund game.
It will take all Mr. Steinmeier's persuasiveness, honed in hotter countries, to coax Germany's politicians into agreement and prevent a fresh election.