Reaching a deal between four parties with such major ideological differences was always going to be extremely difficult. As deadlines came and went, negotiations had seemed to intensify tensions on all sides.
In the end, stubborn differences of opinion remained too great on major policy questions, above all on migration and climate change.
What had brought these parties together in the first place was a willingness to put country – and stability – before party ideology.
Dialogue over the last month was aimed at determining whether a coalition was possible, after federal elections held September 24 ended indecisively. If a preliminary agreement had been made Sunday, formal talks would have begun to draw up a formal program for government.
Instead, the blame game has already begun. Sources in the FDP say the party believed that agreeing to the program offered by the CDU and Greens would have been a humiliation for the party. Mr. Lindner said his party's voters expected a course correction.
The potential coalition partners, however, slammed Mr. Lindner for calling a premature end to the talks and abdicating his responsiblity to help govern. "A culture of compromise is essential for a functioning democracy," Greens co-leader Cem Özdemir said.
Without an agreement, snap elections are a possibility, but these may produce an outcome just as inconclusive as the last. Alternatively, Angela Merkel's CDU may attempt to form a minority government with just one of the negotiating parties. Her party planned to hold internal discussions on the way forward Monday morning.
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The leader of the center-left Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, confirmed Sunday that his party would not continue the current "grand coalition" government with the CDU.
"Voters have rejected the current coalition," he said, referring to the fact that the CDU and SPD together were handed their worst result in post-war Germany. That stance was confirmed again late Sunday after the coalition talks had collapsed.
All parties, however, fear that a failure to reach agreement could boost support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which saw a surge in support in September's elections.
With Ms. Merkel keen to clinch a historic fourth term in office, the Christian Democrat deputy chair, Julia Klöckner, had called Sunday afternoon for one last push to find agreement: "We have to look at the alternatives, and then all pull ourselves together and work something out."
In a tweet Sunday night she derided Mr. Lindner's announcement as "well-prepared spontaneity," criticizing him for seeking to get out in front of the other parties.
Relations between party representatives have been tense, with mutual accusations of lack of trust, personal attacks and leaks to the press.
The Free Democrats had been particularly angered by remarks by lead Green negotiator Jürgen Trittin in a German Sunday newspaper, in which he said all concessions had come on the Green side. "He's just shooting the whole thing down. You can't work like that," said one FDP negotiator.