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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.

Smoke is seen rising from Berlin's Grunewald forest on Thursday.
Smoke is seen rising from Berlin's Grunewald forest on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

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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CLIMATE CRISIS

Germany plans 1,000 extra drinking water fountains

German towns and cities are set to install 1,000 additional drinking water fountains in view of the warmer temperatures expected due to climate change.

Germany plans 1,000 extra drinking water fountains

Across Germany, there are only 1,300 drinking water fountains for members of the public. 

But now the government wants to change that. They are set to order cities and districts to set up more points for people to get access to tap water in public places.

In future, drinking water from the mains network must be freely available in as many public places as possible, said the Federal Environment Ministry following a cabinet decision.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about tap water in Germany

“Access to drinking water must be as easy as possible for everyone in Germany,” said Environment Minister Steffi Lemke.

“Drinking fountains with tap water are one of the basic building blocks of good heat prevention,” said the Green politician, referring to extreme weather events such as heatwaves and dry periods.

And because the water is provided without any packaging, the environment also benefits, Lemke said.

At least 1,000 additional drinking water fountains will be added to the current supply, almost doubling the amount. 

According to the draft law, water fountains are to be part of the public water supply as standard in future. Cities and municipalities have “extensive flexibility” in the location, exact number and type of drinking fountains, the government says. 

Germany is known for having a tricky relationship with tap water. Most Germans are still in favour of buying bottled water rather than drinking from the tap, even though it is safe to do so.

The culture has changed slightly in recent years, but many restaurants and cafes across Germany still think it is strange when people ask for tap water for the table. Some places will refuse to serve it completely. 

The push to install more public drinking water spots goes back to an EU requirement.

At the end of 2020, the EU Parliament, the Commission and the member states agreed on a reform of the Drinking Water Directive. As well as stricter requirements for the quality of drinking water with regard to pollutants, it also stipulates for better access to water in public places.

READ ALSO: Germany urges people to drink tap water to protect the environment

Vocabulary 

Drinking fountain – (der) Trinkwasserbrunnen

As simply as possible – so einfach wie möglich 

Tap water – (das) Leitungswasser

Extreme weather events – (die) Extremwetterereignisse

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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