An enormous show-piece aquarium that stood over 15 metres high and dominated the central lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel in the Mitte district of Berlin, suddenly exploded in the early hours of the morning, spilling a million litres of water, flooding the whole reception area, cutting all power, and leaving almost all of the 1,500 exotic fish dead.
Two people were slightly injured, but emergency services said it was very fortunate that the incident occurred when it did – it was around 5.45am – with very few people about, not just in the hotel, but outside too, as debris was washed out onto what during the day is a very busy road.
Temperature drop could have been cause
More than 100 firefighters attended the scene, which resembled the aftermath of a tsunami, or bomb blast, and it is not as yet clear what caused the devastating break; but a police source told local media there is no evidence that it was the result of any sort of targeted attack, and early speculation was that it was possibly due to a severe drop in temperature, with an overnight -7C, and that may have caused a crack in the tank.
With large volumes of water flooding out of the building, emergency services were forced to close the road next to the hotel which leads from Alexanderplatz down toward the Brandenburg Gate.
It could have resulted in huge loss of life
The two people injured were not seriously hurt, it is believed they were caught with splinters of glass, one of them was a hotel employee, the other not yet known. Around 350 hotel guests were forced to evacuate the building, not just to allow a clear up but also amid concerns that there could be structural damage suffered.
The Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey was deeply shocked by what she saw upon visiting the site and said: “If this hadn’t happened at 5.45 am, but even just one hour later, then we would probably have had terrible injuries and human loss of life to report.”
Tragic loss of exotic fish
Outside it resembled a bomb site, as mangled doors and twisted window frames lay beside anything that had been in the reception lobby, and sadly in amongst it all were nearly 1,500 tropical fish, that had little chance of survival, with many of them that had survived the initial drop ending up frozen on the road. The aquarium housed more than 80 different species, including blue tang and clownfish, two colourful fish popularised by the animated movie “Finding Nemo.”
Some amazingly managed to survive
Amazingly several fish were found alive in places where residual water had collected and were being rehoused in other aquariums across the city. It did materialize that some rare and protected species that were at the very bottom of the tank had also managed to escape harm and the nearby Sea Life and local veterinary practices were taking them in.
Nearby shops damaged by force of water
The impact of the water erupting onto the street was so powerful that local seismographs picked up on it. Several shops and restaurants nearby were damaged, including a local Lindt chocolate outlet, that was hit by a wave of water that was estimated to have weighed upwards of 100 tons.
Hours later as the clean up began, brightly coloured chocolate wrappers were scattered all across the front of the hotel. As is usual after large scale incidents, crowds of tourists and onlookers couldn’t resist snapping away with their cameras from behind the police line that had been set up across the street.
The hotel released a statement saying it was trying to determine what caused the aquarium to burst so spectacularly. “Members of our leadership team are on site, and, together with the authorities, are looking into the cause of the incident, we have immediately closed the hotel until further notice and are relocating guests.”
Guests speak of shock and devastation
Sandra Weeser, who was a guest at the hotel explained how she had been woken up by “a kind of shock wave” and described the scene outside the hotel as a “picture of devastation”. She said fish which may have been saved had died in freezing temperatures as she recalled seeing a “large parrotfish lying on the ground, frozen stiff”.
Iva Yudinski, a tourist from Israel who was staying at the hotel, said she was shocked by the incident. “Just yesterday we watched it and we were so amazed by its beauty, then suddenly it’s all gone.”
“Death trap” accusation from animal rights group
Animal rights group PETA tweeted that the aquarium became a “death trap” for the fish housed in it, adding: “This man-made tragedy shows that aquariums are not a safe place for fish and other marine life”.
Construction company send investigative team to establish cause
The US company that helped with the construction nearly 20 years ago have sent over a team to investigate from their base in Colorado. Reynolds Polymer Technology issued an initial statement that said it was too early to determine the factor or factors that would produce such a failure.
They said it consisted of 41acrylic panels, with 26 for the outside cylinder and 15 for the inside cylinder for the elevator, and these were bonded together on site. The wall thickness of the outer acrylic cylinder was 22 centimetres at the bottom and 18 centimetres at the top.
Glass elevator ride to view major tourist attraction
The AquaDom was opened in December 2003 after it cost around €12.8m to build and was recognised as the largest free-standing cylindrical aquarium in the world. It was wrapped around a glass elevator, where visitors could take a slow ten minute ride to admire all the exotic creatures and was a major tourist attraction for the city.
Some of the 427 rooms offered an inner court view that afforded guests a constant view of the enormous tank. When the hotel finally reopens, the cost of those rooms are likely to be significantly lower and indeed the entire configuration of the hotels layout could very well change completely.