Spectacular car crash near Reichstag only noticed hours later

A driver crashed his BMW at more than 100 kilometres an hour through a barrier near the Reichstag in Berlin, landing in the river on Friday night, swam to the side and walked away – without any security staff noticing, it emerged on Sunday.

Spectacular car crash near Reichstag only noticed hours later
Photo: DPA

The incident only came to light early on Saturday morning when a police officer noticed that a part of the barriers around the parliament building had disappeared, and followed clues which led to the water.

“The officers followed car tracks in the direction of the Spree river bank and saw that a fence along the promenade was also smashed,” a police spokesman told daily Der Tagesspiegel on Sunday.

The fact that the tracks led into the water prompted the officers to call the fire brigade, who had to assume there could be people in the car and sent a team of divers to find the vehicle.

“The vehicle was empty, but we did not know whether those inside had managed to rescue themselves,” a spokesman for the fire brigade said.

A check of the license plates led police to the 20-year-old owner, who had initially registered it as stolen, before admitting that he and a 17-year-old girlfriend had been in it during the crash.

He said they were driving at high speed along the cul de sac by the Paul Löbe Haus next to the Reichstag when he lost control, smashed through the barrier and fence, and flew around 10 metres onto the promenade before crashing into the river.

They both managed to get out of the car and swim to the side before walking to nearby Friedrichstrasse and checking into a hotel to change clothes. Police investigating the case found wet clothes on the balcony of the hotel room.

Apart from a number of bruises, the couple were uninjured. Police and fire spokesmen said they were lucky to be alive.

The driver was tested for alcohol, with a result of 0.8 promille, over the 0.5 promille limit for drivers. He would not make a statement about the time of the accident or the exact details of how it happened.

“The car must have been going at least 100 kilometres an hour,” said fire department spokesperson Jens-Peter Wilken.

Questions are now being asked about how no-one noticed the crash until 6 am, since the Reichstag is one of the most monitored and protected places in the capital.

Der Tagesspiegel said several police units are supposed to be active in the governmental quarter – the Berlin state police, plain-clothes detectives of the state protection unit, federal police, security details from the federal police and members of the parliamentary police which are specifically responsible for the Reichstag and the Paul-Löbe Haus, where much parliamentary work is conducted.

Berlin MP Stefanie Volgelsang said she found the entire incident odd.

“The police officers in the Paul-Löbe Haus are there 24 hours a day. They must have heard something,” she said, although she admitted that due to the parliamentary summer break less security was needed.

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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.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

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