The ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) got 30%, compared to 35% last time.
The AfD has repeatedly demanded tougher anti-immigrant laws and lambasted Merkel for her open-door policy towards "refugees". This election comes just a year before the federal elections.
"This is a slap in the face for Merkel,” AfD co-leader Frauke Petry said.
The 21% is still less than the 28% overall which the Front National got in regional elections in France this year. In a couple of Départements with high numbers of Muslims the FN got 43%.
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