Berlin’s 25-metre tall aquarium bursts, spilling debris and killing hundreds of fish

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A huge aquarium in Berlin burst on 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, cafés and a chocolate store, as one million litres of water poured from the aquarium shortly before 6 a.m, police said.

Berlin’s fire service said two people were slightly injured. Rescue dogs were searching the building for anyone who might be trapped under debris, they said.

People wait for transport outside a hotel after the burst of the AquaDom. (Michel Tantussi/Reuters)

The operators of Sea Life say the 25-metre-tall AquaDom was the biggest cylindrical tank in the world and held more than a thousand tropical fish before the incident. Among the 80 types of fish it housed were blue tang and clownfish, the species known from the popular animated movie Finding Nemo.

“We have not yet been able to walk the first floor completely, which is probably where these fish will be,” fire service spokesperson Adrian Wentzel said. “But the thing is that the water has completely leaked out and these about 1,400 fish that were in this aquarium could not be saved either.”

There was speculation freezing temperatures that got down to -10 C overnight caused a crack in the tank, which then exploded under the weight of the water. Police said there was no evidence the incident resulted from an attack.

A closeup of debris on a sidewalk, with a giant plant holder.
Another view of the damage that spilled onto the Berlin sidewalk is shown as a firefighter stands amidst debris in front of the Radisson Blu hotel in Berlin. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Loud bang, ‘shards everywhere’

Sandra Weeser, a German lawmaker who was staying in the hotel, said she was awoken by a large bang and thought there might have been an earthquake.

“There are shards [of glass] everywhere. The furniture, everything has been flooded with water,” she said. “It looks a bit like a war zone.”

A unique elevator with a water-filled enclosure is seen in the centre of a building's atrium.
In a May 2011 file photo, a diver is seen cleaning the AquaDom, the lobby aquarium in the Radisson Blu hotel in central Berlin. An elevator runs through the centre of the aquarium, taking visitors through an underwater world on their ascent and descent in the building. (Kay Nietfeld/AFP/Getty Images)

The aquarium, which was last modernized in 2020, is a major tourist magnet in Berlin. The 10-minute elevator ride through the tropical tank was one of the highlights of the attraction.

About 300 guests and employees had to be evacuated from the hotel surrounding the aquarium, police said.

A woman is seen walking between two men, one a first responder who is wearing a helmet.
Berlin’s governing mayor, Franziska Giffey, centre, toured the site to see the extensive damage. (REUTERS)

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