BERLIN • While Germany's mainstream political parties are floundering in the face of a right-wing populist onslaught, the ecologist Greens party is gaining in popularity and looking to capture once enemy terrain.
Days ahead of Sunday's Bavaria state elections, the one-time "hippie anti-party" party faces a long unthinkable scenario: scoring big and then joining forces with the arch-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in the wealthy state.
Polls there and nationally put the Greens at around 18 per cent, making it the second strongest force in Germany and in Bavaria, a decades-long CSU fiefdom, far ahead of the dispirited centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
Bavarian public television acknowledged this new reality and, in its only pre-election TV debate, pitted state premier Markus Soeder of the CSU against Greens candidate Ludwig Hartmann, not the SPD's Ms Natascha Kohnen.
The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has surged nationwide in the past three years, also looks to enter the Bavarian state assembly. It is polling at around 10 per cent while the CSU is expected to lose its absolute majority.
This would force the CSU to join forces with its traditional ideological foes, whose Greens pioneers a generation ago entered the national Parliament flashing peace signs and handing out flowers.
News site Spiegel Online said Bavarian politics shows that, aside from the AfD's rise, there is a little-noticed "second revolution ... the rise of the Greens as a mainstream party".
In Bavaria, the Greens are popular in gentrified inner-city areas but also among conservatives who feel passionate about preserving Alpine vistas.
Voting Greens is no longer a cultural taboo for Bavaria's Catholic rural voters because they "can interpret nature conservation as safeguarding creation and a humanitarian refugee policy as an expression of Christian charity", said political scientist Gero Neugebauer.
The Greens have profited from the weakness of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government but also are energised by a charismatic new leadership duo - Mr Robert Habeck, 49, and Ms Annalena Baerbock, 37, both elected in January.
Under their leadership, the party - which scored just 8.9 per cent in last September's elections - has sought to shed its image of moralising do-gooders and started to tackle long-taboo subjects such as German cultural identity and the loaded term "Heimat" (homeland).
The party is still pushing core Greens issues, however, from organic agriculture to protecting species diversity. Where other parties have flip-flopped, on climate and immigration, the Greens have consistently fought for clean energy and against the racist far right.
Over the years, German society has adopted many Greens values - buying organic, using solar panels at home and supporting gay marriage.