The surprise announcement that chancellery chief-of-staff Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to replace Joschka Fischer as Berlin's next foreign minister means other governments can prepare for a big change in style in German foreign policy.
While Mr Fischer was a full-blooded, media-savvy politician with a colourful past and passionate views on world affairs, Mr Steinmeier appears at first glance to be the opposite. A civil servant fiercely loyal to his outgoing boss, Gerhard Schröder, Mr Steinmeier, 49, is little known outside Berlin political circles and is not outspoken on international affairs.
But Mr Steinmeier's intellectual skills and discreet charisma, plus his track record as Mr Schröder political fixer, mean he is well placed to forge common positions on sensitive foreign policy issues that could divide Germany's expected grand coalition government.
Such challenges are likely to include Turkey's bid to join the EU -- which is supported by Mr Steinmeier's Social Democratic party but opposed by the Christian Democrats of chancellor designate Angela Merkel. The silver-haired strategist has since 1999 mediated between the chancellery and the foreign ministry. As chief government co-ordinator for the country's intelligence agencies he held weekly meetings in his office on the exclusive 7th floor of the chancellery with Germany's spy chiefs. "He has intimate knowledge of global security issues," says a senior official who knows him well.
"My first reaction was very positive," said Volker Perthes, director of the SWP foreign affairs think-tank. "Mr Steinmeier has a very strategic mind and a deep understanding of today's security challenges," he said, adding that he expected "broad continuity in German foreign policy" under him.
There may be now accents, however. In a foreign policy speech last month at SWP, the minister-designate said foreign policy should focus more on non-traditional risks, such as energy shortages, migration and demographic change. A senior European diplomat added: "He is always very plugged in on what is happening in the government and on foreign policy."
That foreign affairs knowledge derives from his job as chief trouble-shooter for Mr Schröder, who also used Mr Steinmeier as a critical sounding board for new policy initiatives. To brief the chancellor Mr Steinmeier organised regular expert workshops that often focused on themes such as US domestic politics, the Middle East and international relations theory.
Martin Koopmann of the DGAP German council on foreign relations says Mr Steinmeier's mediation skills could mean "there will be less friction" in relations with EU partners than under Mr Fischer.
Analysts agree the main challenge for Mr Steinmeier -- who speaks good English but has never lived outside Germany -- will be to step out of the shadows into the glare of international politics.
"He's quite capable of doing this, in his own way," says the senior official.
Another, more personal challenge for a man known as a workaholic will be to find time for his family. Mr Steinmeier's nine-year-old daughter says her "Daddy lives in the office". In the future the office and the aircraft might be more accurate.