According to first projections, the Social Democrats, who have reigned in Hamburg uninterrupted for 40 years, were heading for 37 per cent of the vote, 3 per cent down on their result four years ago. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) were forecast to gain 31 per cent; about the same as last time, when they were bitterly divided in the city.
The DVU were projected to gain 5 per cent of the vote. If this result is confirmed, they will enter the Hamburg parliament, providing a useful platform to a party starved of publicity.
"The Social Democrats have achieved only one thing," a CDU spokesman said, "bringing the Browns into parliament."
The Greens, at 14 per cent improved slightly on their 1993 result, while the Free Democrats, Mr Kohl's junior partners in Bonn, failed again to get into the regional assembly. The Hamburg race - the only regional election in Germany this year - was seen as an important test of strength, providing hints about who will form the next government in Bonn.
The Social Democrats, led by their popular mayor, Henning Voscherau, wrong-footed the right by campaigning on a law-and-order platform.
Hamburg has experienced a big increase in crime in the last four years, and, naturally, Mr Voscherau did not want his record tarnished by the statistics.
In one of the most xenophobic campaigns since the war, Mr Voscherau blamed foreigners for the rise, and promised to push for stringent new measures to expel immigrants caught committing crime.Reuse content