Why did Berlin's giant AquaDom aquarium explode?

Why did Berlin's giant AquaDom aquarium explode?

Five months after Berlin’s giant, 16-metre-high aquarium exploded in the lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel, the Sea Life attraction has reopened its doors and German engineers are piecing together what may have caused the unexpected blast.

Sea Life aquarium reopens in Berlin

“We are all really excited that normality is returning once again,” director of the Sea Life aquarium in Berlin, Martin Hansel, told the dpa ahead of the attraction’s reopening on May 15. The site has been closed since December 2022, when the AquaDom, a giant aquarium which towered over the neighbouring lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel, exploded.

Around 100 members of the emergency services were called to the hotel and two people needed medical attention after they were injured by glass splinters, though a major accident was avoided since the event occurred in the early hours of the morning while the lobby was largely empty.

The entranceway and shop of Sea Life Berlin were flooded and blocked by debris, some parts weighing up to nine tonnes, meaning the attraction had to remain closed while the tidy-up was organised. While the exhibition has now been reopened, the shop will remain closed until further notice.

German engineers investigate cause of Berlin aquarium explosion

The destruction of the 16-metre-high aquarium killed almost all of the aquarium’s 1.500 tropical fish. Three weeks after the event, almost 200 of the surviving fish were living in Berlin Zoo, a spokesperson told rbb. Sadly, seven of the surviving fish were dead upon arrival at the Zoo or died from their injuries shortly afterwards.

The AquaDom was originally opened in 2004 and housed 1.500 fish of over 100 different species. When it exploded, the one million litres of water which filled the gigantic cylinder spilt into the surrounding streets of the German city.

At the time of the explosion, some suspected a spate of extremely cold weather in the capital could have contributed to the accident. Now, a team of engineers working in a storage unit in Brandenburg have been quite literally piecing together what may have caused the blast.

By assembling 2D copies of the debris pieces, the engineers hope to solve the quandary. “We are doing it like a puzzle, you start off with the corners,” engineer Robert Kirchner told ntv.

The puzzle pieces may be literal but Kirchner’s approach is more metaphorical. Since the fish tank was cylindrical the group are starting from the edges of the tank. So far, about half of the pieces have been digitally reconstructed to the millimetre. Once complete, the form will be laid out on the ground of the warehouse.

Four hypotheses for Berlin’s AquaDom burst

Though the group of engineers are yet to officially determine what caused the blast back in December, four hypotheses are floating around. These include incorrect usage, a flaw in construction, a flaw in production methods or flawed materials.

According to the researchers, incorrect usage could only have occurred if there had been too much water in the aquarium, and in the case of the AquaDom, this hypothesis can be largely ruled out. 

The tank’s joint seams are of particular interest to the team of investigators. Although the tank looked like it was one piece of acrylic glass, it was in fact several assembled parts. “The way that the plastic at the joint seams, but also the acrylic glass itself is broken, can give us clues about how the damage occurred,” engineer and synthetic materials expert Christian Bonten told ntv.

Thumb image credit: LuisPinaPhotography /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan



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