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

A German-Armenian man drove into a crowd in a busy shopping district in Berlin on Wednesday, hitting a group of teenagers and killing their teacher before crashing through a shop window.

A car crashed into people, and the the window of a store on Tauentzienstraße in Berlin.
A car crashed into people, and the the window of a store on Tauentzienstraße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Michael Sohn

The silver Renault Clio with a Berlin licence plate first drove into a crowd at the corner of Tauentzienstraße and Rankestraße, before returning to the road and then ramming into the window of a Douglas perfume and make-up store on Marburger Straße, about 150 metres away.

While on the pavement, it crashed into a group of secondary school students on a class trip. A female teacher with the group from a school in Bad Arolsen, a small town in the central German state of Hesse, was killed. A male teacher was seriously injured, the Hesse state government said in a statement.

At least 14 people are injured, including six with life-threatening injuries.

The crash, which happened shortly before 10.30am, took place on Tauentzienstraße in the west of the city – just across from Breitscheidplatz, where an Islamic State group sympathiser ploughed a truck through a Christmas market in 2016, killing 12.

Police have not said whether the crash on Wednesday was intentional.

The 29-year-old driver was briefly detained by passers-by before being handed over to police after the car smashed through the shop front, according to police.

Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik said the driver was in hospital and “at this time, we do not have conclusive evidence of a political act”.

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

Spranger earlier denied media reports a letter of confession was found in the car, but said there were “posters with remarks about Turkey”.

However, security sources said the car did not belong to the driver and cautioned that the contents of the vehicle may not be his.

On Thursday morning, Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) said it had become clearer that “it was the act of a severely psychologically impaired person”. She said police were trying to talk to the suspect. 

A spokesman for the Berlin police said that investigations were continuing. 

Around 130 emergency workers were on the scene, and several streets were closed off after the alarm was raised.

Some people were airlifted by helicopter for treatment. 

“There are seriously injured people among the more than a dozen injured,” Berlin police spokesman Thilo Cablitz said in the afternoon.

The area around the Gedächtniskirche (memorial church) in Berlin was closed off after the crash.

The area around the Gedächtniskirche (memorial church) in Berlin was closed off after the crash. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Eyewitnesses said the car was travelling at high speed before the crash.

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.

READ ALSO: Berlin in shock after cars ploughs into pedestrians

Another witness who would only be named as F. Kacan said the driver had ploughed his car into the perfume store, and “then he suddenly took off running on the street and we were able to stop him”.

The crash took place in the Charlottenburg district near Kurfürstendamm, known as Ku’damm. It’s a busy area with lots of shops, offices and tourists. 

Police posted on Twitter to ask witnesses for video recordings or photos to help with their investigation. They also asked people not to circulate pictures of the crash online. 

Berlin police set up a telephone hotline for relatives of those caught up in the incident.

Berlin’s mayor Giffey (SPD) also referred to the number, saying: “It’s particularly important to us that relatives don’t find out about this from any other channels – Twitter and uploaded pictures or whatever.”

Giffey called it a “dark day for Berlin”.

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

Germany on alert for car attacks

Germany has been on high alert for car ramming attacks ramming since the deadly 2016 Christmas market assault, with most carried out by people who were found to have psychological issues.

In December 2020, a German man ploughed his car through a pedestrian shopping street in the southwestern city of Trier, killing four adults and a baby.

Earlier the same year, a German man rammed his car through a carnival procession in the central town of Volkmarsen, injuring dozens of bystanders, including children. He was sentenced to life in jail last year.

In January 2019, another German national injured eight people when he drove into crowds on New Year’s Eve in the western cities of Bottrop and Essen. He was later taken into psychiatric care.

In April 2018, a German man crashed his van into people seated outside a restaurant in the city of Münster, killing five before shooting himself dead. Investigators later said he had mental health problems.

During the football World Cup in Germany in 2006, a German man rammed his car into crowds gathered to watch a match at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, injuring some 20 people. The driver was later committed to a psychiatric hospital. 

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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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