“Nobody on their own represents the people,” said Mr. Schäuble, 75,, who has served in Parliament since 1972. He reminded lawmakers the people were watching.
“The way we speak to each other here can set an example for debate in society,” he said.
Mr. Schäuble recalled that the German Parliament had withstood turbulent debates in the 1970s and 1980s, over the stationing of NATO missiles in what was then West Germany and the overtures to the countries of Communist Eastern Europe.
But he made clear that the expansion of the Parliament from four caucuses to six, reflected the fractured nature of and challenges faced by modern society.
“Rarely before has a new Parliament differed more from its predecessor,” Mr. Schäuble said, adding that roughly 40 percent of all lawmakers were serving for the first time.
The Alternative for Germany entered into parliament as the third-strongest force, with 92 seats, after campaigning on a platform of criticism of Ms. Merkel’s immigration policies and a pattern of taboo-breaking provocation, including questioning Germany’s culture of atonement for its Nazi past.
The chancellor’s conservative bloc of her Christian Democrats and the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, won the Sept. 24 election, but lost 65 seats as compared to 2013, with many going to the AfD.
This forced Ms. Merkel to seek partners to secure a majority and form a government. She has yet to form a coalition — signaling that it could take until year’s end — as talks with the Free Democrats and the leftist, environmentalist Greens continue.
The Social Democrats, who spent the past four years in a government together with Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, are the second-largest party in Parliament, but wasted no time making clear their decision to return to the opposition.
“Your political style, Ms. Merkel, is the reason we have a rightist, populist party here in the Bundestag,” said Carsten Schneider, taking the podium for the Social Democrats and calling for the chancellor to face questioning in Parliament.
“During the election you avoided every political dispute about better ideas and concepts, every debate over the best arguments,” he added.
Because of the way that seats are alloted, the current Parliament is the largest that Germany has ever seen, with 709 lawmakers, as compared with 631 in the previous four years, sending officials scrambling to install more seats and organize more office space.
A member of the AfD, Wilhelm von Gottberg, is the oldest at 77, with the youngest member, Roman Müller-Böhm — 24 and still a law student at the University of Bochum — of the Free Democrats, as the youngest.
Only about 30 percent of the lawmakers are women, down from some 36 percent in the previous legislative period, even though the longtime chancellor, Ms. Merkel, has been repeatedly named as the world’s most powerful woman.
The role of opening the session fell to Hermann Otto Solms, a 76-year-old member of the Free Democrats, who urged lawmakers to adapt to the new reality in Parliament.
“The election result on Sept. 24 changed the balance of power in Parliament more than expected and redistributed political roles,” Mr. Solms said. “I warn against creating special rules, marginalizing or stigmatizing people.”
But the outcome of a first vote for the AfD candidate to serve as vice-president to Mr. Schäuble — each caucus nominates someone to serve as deputy to the president — appeared to indicate the difficulties the body will face.
After the AfD refused to vote for Mr. Schäuble as president of the Parliament, their candidate for vice-president failed to win a majority on the first round of voting, forcing lawmakers to cast ballots a second and then a third time.
The AfD candidate, Albrecht Glaser, 75, stirred controversy when he questioned whether Islam should be considered a religion, pointing to Muslim countries that did not offer religious freedom.
After Mr. Glaser failed to secure a majority in three rounds of voting on Thursday, it was left to a committee of elders to decide how to proceed.
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