At least two people were killed and several injured when a car tore through a pedestrian shopping street in the southwestern German city of Trier on Tuesday, police said, adding that the driver had been arrested.
Police were not immediately able to say whether the silver SUV had deliberately targeted the pedestrian-only zone but Trier mayor Wolfram Leibe said the driver appeared to have gone "on a rampage".
Police sealed off the area and urged people to stay away from the city centre, which was strewn with debris.
Police spokesman Karl-Peter Jochem told reporters that the driver was a 51-year-old German from the local area and that "the danger is over".
He said the vehicle had ploughed through the street at high speed for about a kilometre before a police car forced the driver to a halt.
Smartphone footage showed the presumed driver lying face down on the street, being held down by several officers next to the damaged SUV. He was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
On Twitter, Trier police initially said two people were killed.
A few minutes later, an updated tweet read: "Several dead and injured in Trier's inner city."
Trier mayor Leibe told reporters the driver had caused "several deaths" and injuries.
With tears in his eyes, Leibe recounted the shock of seeing a child's shoe on the street near the body of a girl.
"It's a horror scene," he said. "Many people are traumatised."
Other eyewitnesses spoke of seeing people, including a young child in a stroller, being flung into the air as the car rammed into them.
Police spokesman Uwe Konz told AFP it remained unclear what exactly had happened, saying "the background still needs to be clarified".
- Christmas shopping -
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert on Twitter called the incident "shocking". He said the country's thoughts were with the "relatives of the deceased, the many injured and with all those who are helping to care for those affected".
Malu Dreyer, the regional premier of Rhineland-Palatinate state where Trier is located and regional interior minister Roger Lewentz are due to give a press conference later.
Footage from the scene broadcast on NTV showed several police vans and other emergency vehicles parked on a wide shopping street in Trier, a large section of which has been cleared.
Shoppers were seen huddling outside shops festooned with Christmas decorations with sirens blaring in the distance.
Debris from stalls and outdoor displays left a trail of destruction along the cobbled street.
Picturesque Trier, near the border with Luxembourg, traces its history back to the Roman Empire and is often called Germany's oldest city.
Although Germany is grappling with a second coronavirus wave that has forced restaurants, bars, sports and cultural centres to close, retailers have been allowed to stay open and many people were out doing their Christmas shopping.
"It's lucky that the Christmas market has been cancelled because of corona, or it could have been much worse," witness Frederic Fries told Welt TV.
While the incident has not been confirmed to be an attack, it brought back memories of the 2016 truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead.
The driver, Anis Amri, was a failed Tunisian asylum seeker and a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group.
In February, a German driver deliberately rammed into a crowd of revellers at a carnival parade in the central town of Volkmarsen, injuring dozens. Investigators ruled out a political motive and the suspect was detained on suspicion of attempted murder.
In January 2019, a German man injured eight people when he drove into groups of foreigners on New Year's Eve in the western cities of Bottrop and Essen, in what police called an anti-migrant attack.