Angela Merkel's hand-picked choice for the ceremonial post of president resigned on Friday in a scandal over political favours, dealing a blow to the German chancellor in the midst of the euro zone debt crisis.
In a curt five-minute statement at the Bellevue presidential palace, Christian Wulff acknowledged that he had lost the trust of the German people, making it impossible to continue in a role that is meant to serve as a moral compass for the nation.
"For this reason it is no longer possible for me to exercise the office of president at home and abroad as required," said Wulff, standing next to his wife Bettina.
Merkel postponed a trip to Rome where she was to hold talks on the euro zone's debt crisis with Italian PM Mario Monti. She made a brief statement after Wulff spoke, saying she regretted his departure and would seek talks with opposition parties to find a candidate to replace him.
The chancellor is riding a wave of popularity in Germany for her handling of the crisis, but the departure of Wulff raises questions about her judgement as she forced through his appointment over a strong opposition candidate who polls show most Germans favoured.
He is the second president to step down in less than two years. His predecessor, former International Monetary Fund chief Horst Koehler, resigned unexpectedly in 2010 after coming under fire for comments he made about the German mission in Afghanistan and failing to get strong backing from Merkel.
The resignation is likely to embolden the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, who have shied away from criticising Merkel too strongly in recent months.
Despite her vow to find a consensus candidate to replace Wulff, the choosing of a successor could prove divisive, distracting her just as European governments are trying to cobble together a second aid package for Greece to avert a chaotic default and euro zone exit.