BERLIN—A giant cylindrical aquarium that had become a landmark in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall burst on Friday, sending one million liters of water and 1,500 exotic fish onto a busy crossing opposite the city’s recently rebuilt royal palace.
Witnesses described hearing what sounded like a loud explosion around 5:45 a.m. local time, when police said the glass tank burst. The wave wreaked havoc as it crashed through doors and windows and flooded the street outside.
Two people were injured by flying glass shards, police said, and first responders said they examined 35 people. Rescue dogs searched through the rubble looking for more victims.
Officers armed with automatic weapons and around 100 rescue workers descended on the scene in the early morning.
Police said they were confident that the incident wasn’t the result of an intentional act and weren’t investigating it. However, they said it was too early to tell why and how the transparent casing of the 16-meter-tall cylindrical tank ruptured.
The tank stood inside the glass-roofed atrium of the Radisson hotel, overlooking its cafe and reception counters and bathing the lobby in pale blue light.
Visitors to the adjacent AquaDom & Sea Life Center could visit the aquarium by taking an elevator rising through its center. The AquaDom’s website says the tank was the largest of its kind in the world.
Sandra Weeser, a lawmaker staying at the hotel, told German TV crews that she was sleeping in her room when she heard a loud bang.
“I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “Then I went back to sleep.”
When she awoke and learned what had taken place just a few meters away, she packed her things and left the hotel, passing the rubble.
“Everything inside was destroyed, dead fish are lying everywhere,” she said.
Other posts shared on social media showed the inside of the hotel lobby with an empty concrete hull where the aquarium had been towering over a mess of overturned furniture and broken glass.
Speaking later at the scene, Berlin Mayor
described the wave from the exploding tank as “a tsunami that engulfed the hotel and neighboring restaurants.”
While the damage was considerable and might lead to some structures having to be demolished, she said lives could have been lost had the incident happened just a few hours later when the hotel lobby and adjacent streets would have been full of visitors and commuters.
The complex housing the aquarium is also home to an East Germany historical museum. It stands in the former historic center of Berlin, opposite the cathedral, the rebuilt Hohenzollern palace, and Museum Island—all popular tourist attractions.
Both the German Democratic Republic museum, which is located directly underneath the aquarium, and the AquaDom said they would remain closed indefinitely following the incident.
Union Investment, the owner of the building housing the aquarium, said its representatives were working with emergency services to estimate the extent of the damage. It said most of the fish in the tank had died but rescuers were trying to relocate specimens that were in other tanks at the time of the incident.
Police said around 350 people were staying in the hotel at the time of the incident. The hotel guests were evacuated and given shelter in buses that were brought to the scene.
Because of the freezing temperatures, the water that spilled outside the hotel immediately froze, leading Berlin’s waste-management agency to dispatch two specialized trucks to remove the ice.
The AquaDom tank is made of plexiglass and has a diameter of 11.5 meters, according to the operator’s website. The tank contained 1,000 cubic meters of saltwater and had been renovated as recently as 2020, according to the operator. The aquarium contained more than 100 different species of fish.
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