Mulled wine, Christmas shopping, and then chaos: Survivors say Berlin market carnage happened too fast

Officials inspecting the scene after a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin.
Officials inspecting the scene after a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) - The Berlin evening air was cool, the mulled wine warm and festive spirits high. Then, suddenly, chaos: A truck ploughed into the Christmas market, making no obvious attempt to stop, smashing revellers in its path.

"It happened so fast there was nothing we could do to stop it," said Mr Mike Fox, a British tourist from Birmingham, who had just enjoyed a mug of mulled wine with his girlfriend at the market in the heart of former West Berlin.

"It definitely looked deliberate," he told reporters of the incident, which police said took place at around 8pm local time on Monday (3am Tuesday Dec 20, Singapore time).

"It was careening in, bashing into the stalls," he said of the large, black, Scania truck that eventually ground to a halt, Christmas decorations protruding from its smashed windscreen.

Police said the truck killed 12 people and injured 48 others after ploughing into the Christmas market at the foot of the Gedaechtniskirche, or memorial church, built in 1891-95, which was left a ruin as a monument to peace and reconciliation after being damaged in World War II bombing raids.

"I spoke to two people who were lying on the floor with broken limbs, but they were going to be OK," said Mr Fox, adding that the truck missed him by about three metres and kept going.

"I saw one guy being dragged away with blood on his face. I helped several other people lift the side of one of the stalls up so that they could pull two other people from underneath."

 

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Ms Emma Rushton, another tourist visiting Berlin, said she had a near escape too as the truck tore through the market, ripping down Christmas lights.

"Had we left two minutes earlier we would have been right in the path of it," she told the BBC. "It was probably doing about 40 miles per hour (65 kmh). It showed no signs of slowing down," she said. "It wasn't an accident. It didn't feel like an accident."

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the circumstances of the crash were still unclear, adding: "I don't want to use the word 'attack' yet although a lot points to that."

An elderly man who saw the bloodshed told the Berliner Morgenpost that the driver appeared to be targeting the market, turning off his lights as he steered towards the crowds.

"It must have been on purpose because he didn't have the lights on," he said. "Then I just heard this loud bang and hysterical screams." 

Breitscheidplatz is one the busiest of the city's famous Christmas markets. Witnesses said visitors were drinking traditional hot wine and taking in the lights and sounds of the market when they heard a loud noise.

A local German woman, who had made a habit of stopping by the Christmas market on the way home from work, said she was lucky to arrive after the carnage.

"I am here almost every night. Only today I was on late shift."