‘It happened so fast’: Berlin in shock after car ploughs into pedestrians

A car was driven into a crowd of people, including school pupils, on a busy Berlin street on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring several others, before crashing through a store. People said they heard screams, and a large bang.

Emergency services at the scene in Berlin where a car crashed into pedestrians.
Emergency services at the scene in Berlin where a car crashed into pedestrians. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The driver, a 29-year-old German-Armenian man living in Berlin, was detained by police following the crash on Wednesday morning shortly before 10.30am. 

According to reports, the silver Renault Clio first rammed into a crowd at the corner of Tauentzienstraße and Rankestraße, before returning to the road and then slamming into the window of a Douglas perfume and make-up store on Marburger Straße, about 150 metres away.

A group of school students on a class trip from Hesse were hit, and their teacher died. Several people from the group were injured, some with life-threatening injuries. 

READ ALSO: Teacher dead and school pupils injured in Berlin after car drives into crowd

Police haven’t said whether the crash was intentional. On Thursday they said their investigations were continuing. 

Berlin interior minister Iris Spranger said that “according to latest information” the attack seemed to have been “committed by someone suffering from psychological problems”.

People gathered in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche) on Wednesday evening to pay tribute to the victims of the crash. 

Witnesses described how the car mounted the pavement. 

A 58-year-old man from the Philippines said he was walking on Kurfürstendamm on his way to work when he was almost caught by the car after it veered off the road and into pedestrians.

He told The Local how he saw the car drive into a crowd of people, and heard shouts and screams as people were knocked out of the way.

“Thank God I was walking on the side of the pavement and not in the middle,” he said.

“Otherwise I could be in hospital now. Of course I feel very sad and I’m in shock.”

A large area near the Gedächtniskirche (memorial church) was closed to the public as police carried out investigations. 

There was a quiet mood in the afternoon, with lots of people standing around in shock. 

Close to Berlin Zoo, the area in Breidscheidplatz is usually packed with people, especially shoppers and tourists. 

Dozens of police vans as well as fire and rescue vehicles were parked on the roads. 

Emergency workers stand on a cordoned-off street after the car crash in Berlin.

Emergency workers stand on a cordoned-off street after the car crash in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Frank Vittchen, a witness at the scene, told AFP he was sitting at a fountain nearby when he “heard a big crash and then also saw a person fly through the air”.

The vehicle drove “at high speed onto the pavement and didn’t brake”, he said, with its windows shattering from the impact.

“It all happened so fast,” he said.

A waiter from a restaurant near the crash scene told the Berliner Zeitung how a car travelling at high speed rammed into people, and “bodies just flew through the air”.

The waiter said he ran to help the victims.

Another witness, who declined to be named, said the people hit by the car included a group of 15-16 year olds, and that two teachers were among those injured.

British-American actor John Barrowman, who was near the street at the time, said on Twitter: “I heard the bang and the crash when we were in a store and then we came out and we just saw the carnage,” he said.

‘I thought someone had been shot’

Outside the police cordon, most shops remained open.

A 30-year-old security guard who was working at a store directly across the road from where the crash happened, told The Local: “I heard the glass smash in the shop across the street.

“I thought someone had been shot. But then my boss told me that it was a driver who had driven down the pavement.

“The police were there in about five minutes. There were lots of people just standing around watching.”

The crash happened close to Breitscheidplatz – where an Islamic State group sympathiser ploughed a truck through a Christmas market in 2016, killing 12 people. In the wake of the attack, authorities implemented security measures in the area.

“There is still a gaping wound in the heart of this city,” said police spokesman Thilo Cablitz after updating reporters on the car crash on Wednesday. 

Many are feeling anxious after the latest incident.

The security guard said: “It’s terrible. It’s really scary. How are mothers and small kids supposed to walk on the street now when things like that happen?”

A worker at a nearby book shop said: “Me and all my colleagues are in shock. We didn’t see it with our own eyes but we all started getting messages from our friends and family asking if we were okay.”

Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey said she was “deeply affected by the incident” and planned to go to the scene. 

A German government spokeswoman said the government was “very concerned and shocked” by the “terrible incident in Berlin” adding that their thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.

With reporting from AFP and Rachel Loxton

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‘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