The last three decades has seen a steady electoral decline in the Volksparteien, culminating in the historically low share of the vote garnered by the CDU/CSU and SPD in the 2009 federal election. Despite this low vote share, and the poor performance of the SPD in particular, this article argues that party system change has in many ways enhanced the coalition options available to the Volksparteien. However, with reference to the notion of path dependence and the associated role of rules, norms and beliefs in locking in standard operating procedures, the article argues that the CDU/CSU is better placed than the SPD to take advantage of these new strategic options. This is because the CDU/CSU has been and remains more capable of shaping German party politics, whereas the SPD has internalised a more reactive role. The article examines why this is the case and discusses how the SPD might overcome path dependence and, in doing so, transform its strategic prospects.