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Update: Fire attack at Berlin station described as ‘brutal murder attempt’

A fire attack on two homeless men in Berlin has been described as a “brutal murder attempt."

Update: Fire attack at Berlin station described as 'brutal murder attempt'
Flowers and candles laid at the scene at Schöneweide station. Picture: DPA

Berlin social senator Elke Breitenbach, of the Left party, spoke out after the men, a 47- and 62-year-old, suffered severe burns in the attack at Schöneweide station in Berlin-Treptow on Sunday night.

Around 150 people came together on Monday evening at the station to hold a vigil in support of the two victims.

At the scene a sign was held up which read: “Grief, anger, solidarity”. Those at the vigil laid down flowers and candles and laid kindhearted messages down at the scene of the attack.

In an interview with rbb on Tuesday, Breitenbach warned of an increasing brutalization within society and campaigned for more compassion, while also describing the attack as a “brutal murder attempt”.

Meanwhile, one of the men attacked is in intensive care with severe injuries, according to reports in rbb.

Lars Düsterhöft, SPD politician for Treptow-Köpenick, told rbb he visited the men in hospital with a social worker and health senator Dilek Kolat (SPD).

Düsterhöft said the man’s skin was seriously burnt and he was “not responsive” during the visit.

However, the second man was is doing well considering the circumstances and recovering in hospital. He has not suffered severe burns.

The victims were treated at the scene and then taken to a hospital, according to reports in Bild.  

The perpetrators reportedly poured a flammable liquid on the homeless men during the attack, which happened on Sunday shortly after 11pm. They were said to be in sleeping bags at the time with a dog, which belonged to one of the men, nearby.

Passers-by raised the alarm while others from a nearby fast-food outlet rushed to try and put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

 

The scene at Schöneweide station. Picture: DPA

The culprits fled on foot.

Charred trainers and other belongings could be seen at the scene after the attack. Police cordoned off the area as investigations got underway. A rose was placed by a passer-by outside the cordon.

Police are treating the act as attempted murder. 

It is estimated that there are between 4,000 and 10,000 homeless people in Berlin. The attack is not the first to be carried out on homeless people in Berlin and other German cities.

On Christmas Eve 2016 a group of young people tried to set a sleeping homeless man on fire at the subway station Schönleinstraße in Berlin’s Neukölln district.

Passengers stepped in and the homeless man was not seriously injured.

Last year, the main perpetrator was sentenced to two years and nine months imprisonment, while three accomplices received juvenile sentences of eight months.

In 2017, two men were also arrested for an arson attack with a cigarette on a 51-year-old homeless man at Munich's Central Station. The main perpetrator was sentenced to six months in jail.

 

 

 

 

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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