Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats have suffered a severe defeat in local elections in Hamburg.
The poll is being seen as a gauge of public mood after painful economic reforms
The party slumped to its worst result in the city since World War II.
The SPD fell six points to 30.5% while the Christian Democrats soared 21 points to 47.2%, a sign of CDU mayor Ole von Beust's popularity.
The result is being taken as a gauge of the public mood after Mr Schroeder's recent programme of welfare cuts, and some now predict a cabinet reshuffle.
Social Democratic leaders conceded that Mr Schroeder's unpopular drive to trim pension, health care and jobless benefits had not helped their cause.
"It's true that with our federal policies, we weren't able to give much support in Hamburg," the party's designated national leader, Franz Muentefering told the Associated Press.
But he added: "We are certain that our policies are right and
that we want to pursue them and will pursue them."
Christian Democrats, in opposition nationally but successful in a
string of recent local elections, hailed the victory.
"In a long election year, this is a signal," CDU national leader Angela Merkel said.
Hamburg was a Social Democrat stronghold until 2001 when the party was ousted by a coalition led by the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
The Hamburg poll was called after the city government collapsed last December amid in-fighting in the coalition.
The CDU campaign was led by Ole von Beust, who is credited with tackling crime, prostitution and drugs trade.
The Social Democrats' candidate was Thomas Mirow who complained of being unfairly called to account for Chancellor Schroeder's unpopular reforms.
In the 2001 elections the SPD won more votes than the CDU but the Green Party with whom they would have formed a coalition got less than 10%.
Sunday's elections are the first of 14 municipal, state and European elections due to be held in Germany this year.
"The Hamburg election is not a good omen for the SPD in the
2004 election year," commented the conservative daily Frankfurter