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Berlin bank robber had fake gun and bomb

The 29-year-old man from Wolfsburg who police said took a Deutsche Bank manager in Berlin hostage on Friday evening did not have a real gun or bomb and reportedly tried to rob the bank because he was in debt, the Berliner Zeitung reported.

Berlin bank robber had fake gun and bomb
Photo: DPA

The suspected bank robber held the 40-year-old Deutsche Bank employee for several hours before surrendering to the police on Saturday morning. He had first demanded €100,000, then a half million euros than upped it to a million and asked for safe passage. He also threatened to blow up the bank if his demands were not met.

The man’s weapon was later revealed as fake as was the “bomb” he reportedly intended to use to destroy the bank. After the man surrendered to the police and they were able to inspect the “bomb” it turned out to be three kilos of flour.

The paper said the apparent motive was that the man was in debt, but police officials at a press conference on Saturday refused to elaborate on the motive.

Jochen Sindberg, head of the Berlin police’s criminal department, said the man first entered the bank in the wealthy neighbourhood of Zehlendorf on Thursday and wanted to open an account, which was not possible to due technical reasons at the time. He left, but returned on Friday and asked for credit.

The 40-year-old manager who became a hostage entered into talks with the man, who at some point expressed his “wish” and showed the bank employee his gun and bomb, which turned out to be fake. He then said he wanted €100,000 immediately, but soon raised the financial stakes.

The bank employee told the man that he needed to get an okay from the branch manager and had to call him, which he was allowed to do. The police told reporters at that point the man thought that he would get the money.

“The bank director acted very professionally,” said Sindberg. “He evacuated the branch, called the police and told the perpetrator that he wasn’t able to do business with him.”

Police officials said in their negotiations with the man it was clear that he was not a professional bank robber and did not want to harm his hostage, but was more interested in getting the money and a safe passage out.

If convicted, the man faces between five and 15 years of jail time.

The Local/mw

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WILDFIRES

‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET

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