'Unbelievable maritime damage': Giant aquarium housing 1,500 tropical fish bursts in Berlin

Freezing temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius overnight had caused a crack in the tank

By Agencies

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Photos: AP
Photos: AP

Published: Fri 16 Dec 2022, 2:05 PM

Last updated: Fri 16 Dec 2022, 9:06 PM

A huge aquarium in Berlin burst Friday, causing glass, water and hundreds of tropical fish to spill out of the Sea Life tourist attraction in the heart of the German capital.

A wave of debris swept out of the building, which also contains a hotel, cafes and a chocolate store, as 1 million litres of water poured from the aquarium shortly before 6am, police said.

Two people suffered light injuries from glass splinters and were taken to hospital and all the fish died. Rescue dogs were searching the building for anyone who might be trapped under debris, Berlin's fire service said, while police said on Twitter there had been "unbelievable maritime damage".

"It was a full-on tsunami," said Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey, adding that it was pure luck the incident had happened in the early morning when very few people were around.

"Despite the terrible destruction we're seeing, we're lucky people weren't seriously injured," she told reporters.

The 1,500 fish in the tank however "could not be saved", Giffey added. More than 100 emergency workers were at the scene, which was scattered with glass and other debris.

Here's how the world's largest freestanding cylindrical aquarium looked before the incident:

Here's a video clip of the aftermath:

The cylindrical AquaDom, which opened in 2004, has long been a popular tourist attraction in the German capital. It is located in the foyer of a Radisson Blu hotel and had a clear-walled elevator built inside to be used by visitors to the Sea Life leisure complex.

According to the Sea Life website, the AquaDom is the largest cylindrical, freestanding aquarium in the world. Among the 80 types of fish it housed were blue tang and clownfish, the species known from the popular animated movie “Finding Nemo”.

Hotel guest Claudia Gonzales said she "jolted out of bed" when the aquarium burst. "It sounded almost like a firework but the hotel actually shook inside," she told AFP.

Berlin police said water had "massively" leaked onto the adjoining Karl Liebknecht Street, forcing the partial closure of the major traffic artery. Tram service was also suspended. The area around the hotel remained sealed off by the early afternoon.

The deluge of water left a path of destruction in its wake, breaking windows and doors and sweeping chairs, tables and plant pots into the street outside the hotel.

Pictures and videos circulating online, apparently from guests staying at the hotel, showed extensive damage to the transparent aquarium, with only the frame still standing.

German lawmaker Sandra Weeser, who was staying at the hotel when the aquarium burst, said she was woken up by "a kind of shockwave". "There was a slight tremor of the building and my first guess was an earthquake," she told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.

The area where the aquarium once stood was now just "dark and wet", she said, recalling how she saw "one of those large parrot fish lying on the ground, frozen".

Around 300 guests were staying at the hotel. They have been evacuated.

The complex that housed the aquarium is also home to the GDR museum, devoted to everyday life in former communist East Germany. Located in the basement of the complex, it suffered serious water damage and will likely remain closed until late February, its director Gordon von Godin told local media.

The Sea Life Berlin centre, which sells tickets for the AquaDom elevator ride and also has its own collection of aquariums nearby, said it too would remain shut "until further notice".

A spokesman stressed that Sea Life Berlin did not own the aquarium nor was it responsible for its maintenance.

"We are trying to get information from the owners of AquaDom," he said in a statement.

The Bild newspaper said the aquarium had only reopened this summer after a two-year renovation that cost around 2.6 million euros ($2.7 million).

The aquarium was last refurbished in 2020, according to the website of the DomAquaree complex. During the upgrading work, all the water was drained from the tank and the fish were moved to aquariums in the basement of the building, where there is a breeding care facility for the fish, it said.


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