Sexual assaults reported at Berlin street festival

Two women were sexually assaulted and mugged by a group of around ten men during Berlin's Carnival of Cultures, an annual street parade celebrating the diversity of the German capital.

Sexual assaults reported at Berlin street festival
File photo of the carnival parade. Photo: Soeren Stache/DPA

The pair, aged 17 and 18, were dancing on a stage in Kreuzberg on Sunday afternoon, when they were surrounded by the group of around ten men who harrassed them and touched them, according to a police report. The women tried to get away but were unable to, and the younger girl's mobile phone was stolen.

A witness, who had seen the girls looking frightened and noticed that one of them was holding the girl in a “strange” way, filmed the men – one of whom reacted aggressively when he noticed.

Police were able to intervene and detained three of the attackers, one 14-year-old and two 17-year-olds, confirming later on Twitter that they were already known to police. After taking their details, the men were released.

“The three suspects recognized are known to the police. Two are of Turkish descent, the background of the third is unclear.”

Investigations are continuing and anyone who was a victim of or witness to further assaults should contact Berlin police or make a complaint using the Internetwache online interface.

The carnival passed without any other serious incident, although police also reported two instances of 'hug scammers', in Charlottenburg and the central Friedrichstraße, perhaps taking advantage of the high spirits of the carnival.

In both cases, two men were involved; one asked for a high-five or to borrow a cigarette lighter from the passer-by, and then both grabbed the victim's arm and stole their watch. Plainclothes officers apprehended the perpetrators on both occasions.

Police were likely particularly vigilant during the weekend street festival, following the mass sexual assaults which took place during Cologne's New Year's street celebrations. The ugly scenes cast a harsh spotlight on the city's police who initially failed to prevent the violence and then tried to play down the extent of the chaos for several days. Germany has tightened its legal definition of rape following the attacks and the first three suspects have gone on trial, with one Algerian man cleared of sexual assault charges.



‘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