BERLIN — A massive aquarium in Berlin burst open early Friday, spilling debris, water and more than a thousand tropical fish from the AquaDom tourist attraction in the heart of the German capital.
Police said parts of the building, which also contains a hotel, cafes and a chocolate shop, were damaged when 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of water spilled from the aquarium shortly before 6 a.m. (05:00 GMT). Berlin firefighters said two people were slightly injured.
The company that owns the AquaDom, Union Investment Real Estate, said in a statement Friday afternoon that the reasons for the incident were “still unclear.”
Mayor Franziska Giffey said the incident had caused a “true tsunami” of water, but early morning timing would have prevented many more injuries.
“Despite all the devastation, we were still very lucky,” she said. “We would have suffered terrible human damage” if the aquarium had burst even an hour later, once people were awake in the hotel and surrounding area again, she said.
The 80-foot-tall AquaDom was described as the world’s largest cylindrical tank and contained more than a thousand tropical fish before the incident. Among the 80 species of fish it housed were blue tang and clownfish, two colorful species known from the popular animated movie “Finding Nemo”.
“Unfortunately, none of the 1,500 fish could be saved,” Giffey said.
Efforts were made Friday afternoon to rescue another 400 to 500 smaller fish housed in aquariums below the hotel lobby. Without electricity, their tanks would not receive the necessary oxygen for survival, officials said.
“Now it’s about evacuating them quickly,” Almut Neumann, a city official responsible for environmental issues for Berlin’s Mitte district, told Germany’s dpa news agency.
Several organizations, including the Berlin Zoo, offered to take in the surviving fish.
Aquarium operator Sea Life said it was saddened by the incident and tried to get more information about the incident from the owners of the AquaDom.
Sea Life’s own aquarium is located in the same building and visitors can visit it and the AquaDom with one ticket.
It was speculated that freezing temperatures dropping to minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) at night caused a crack in the acrylic glass tank, which then exploded under the weight of the water. According to the police, there is no evidence that the incident was the result of a malicious act.
About 300 guests and employees had to be evacuated from the hotel surrounding the aquarium, police said.
Sandra Weeser, a German lawmaker who stayed at the hotel, said she was awakened by a big bang and thought there might have been an earthquake.
“There are (glass) shards everywhere. The furniture, everything is flooded with water,” she said. “It’s kind of like a war zone.”
Police said a Lindt chocolate shop and several restaurants in the same building complex, as well as an underground parking garage next to the hotel, suffered damage. A spokesman for the fire department said building safety experts were assessing the extent to which the hotel had suffered structural damage.
Hours after the incident, trucks began clearing debris that spilled onto the street in front of the hotel. Brightly colored Lindt chocolate wrappers were scattered in front of the building where the chocolate shop had been damaged. A small crowd of tourists and onlookers snapped photos from behind the police line across the street.
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.
Animal rights group PETA tweeted Thursday that the aquarium became a “death trap” for the fish housed in it. “This man-made tragedy shows that aquariums are not a safe place for fish and other marine life,” they wrote.
Iva Yudinski, a tourist from Israel who stayed at the hotel, said she was shocked by the incident
“Yesterday we looked at it and we were so amazed (by) its beauty,” she said. “Suddenly it’s all gone. Everything is a mess, a total mess.”