A shooting in Munich has killed eight people at a major shopping centre and touched off a wave of fear in the south-eastern Germany city.

The police received a call at 5:52 pm (1552 GMT) about the blood bath, which is believed to have started at a McDonald's, and the news spread quickly via social media.

A situation far from the scene - near Karlsplatz in the city centre - followed the shooting spree, but there was no concrete information about it. People fled as heavily armed police appear everywhere.

The shooting spree touched off panic and fear in the city of 1.4 million inhabitants. Too recent are the events in Nice involving a lorrie plowing through a crowd on Bastille Day and a knife-and-axe attack on Monday on a train near Wuerzburg, which, like Munich, is in Bavaria.

In the city centre, people sought shelter in office buildings and restaurants. A young woman sat down on the stone steps of an office building: "I don't want to die," she sobbed. "You are safe here," another woman said, trying to sooth her.

Some 20 to 30 people fled into the basement of the Il Sogno restaurant. Others screamed as they ran into the kitchen of a McDonald's outlet on Karlsplatz. A member of staff quickly blocked all the doors.

The McDonald's management had advised him on the phone to keep the restaurant shut, the man said, adding that the mood among the patrons was calm. "We're giving them drinks and food," he said.

People on Twitter offered safe places to passers-by via the hashtag #Offenetür (open door).

Meanwhile, the pedestrian area in the centre leading from Karlsplatz to the main central square, Marienplatz, was deserted. Fear and fear of death kept people away.

Shopkeepers in the city centre pulled down their shutters well before closing time. Some left bins of items on special offer outside. Safety first. Helicopters flew over the city, the noise of police sirens wailed in the streets and cars were stuck in traffic.

Underground rail, trams and bus service was suspended. The main train station was evacuated and all trains were diverted. The station foyer emptied quickly, as police with machine guns guarded entry and exit points. People ran across the tracks to get home. Heavily armed police officers are stationed everywhere around the transportation hub.

Georgia Guggenmoos had been at a beer festival in Munich and wanted to take the train home to Murnau with her husband. "We are shocked, we had such a peaceful day," the 51-year-old said.

An Italian tourist in the city centre asked a local where she might be safe.

"It's best for you to go to a restaurant," he responded. The important thing is to get off the street.

Police implemented a state of emergency in the city's north-east near the Olympia shopping centre where the shooting took place. Police evacuated the mall and cordoned off the area around it.

The whereabouts of the suspects were unclear, but police said there were three of them carrying rifles.

The attack has taken the city's lifeblood. Major chain stores have shops at the shopping centre, and Friday afternoons are normally quite busy. But police called on people to stay at home.

"Of course it's normal to worry. I'm feeling pretty queasy," said an assistant in a pet shop some 2 kilometres away from the shopping centre. She is worried about her family too, "especially since I haven't been able to get hold of my brother and sister. Maybe they went shopping there."

She wasn't sure if she would get home Friday night.

"I live close by, only five minutes by car. I hope the roads will be clear."

Not far away, in a side street, five people squeezed into a small car. They were work colleagues who just finished their shift in a supermarket.

"There aren't any underground trains running, and we all have to get home somehow," said the young woman behind the steering wheel who is giving her colleagues a lift. She doesn't mind going out of her way to bring them home.

"Of course not, that goes without saying. I'm just glad that we haven't been hurt." The others nod in agreement and say, "We just want to leave this place."

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