A handout photo shows a bomb defusing team pose next to a 500-kilogram World War II bomb near the main train station in Berlin. Picture: Reuters

Berlin - Bomb disposal experts have defused a 500 kilogram World War II British bomb in the centre of Berlin, police have said.

Experts were able within a short space of time to remove the fuse from the bomb and make it safe, a police spokesman said on Friday.

Before they could start, 10 000 people had to be cleared from a 800-metre-radius exclusion zone near the capital's central rail station, which was completely closed during the operation.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn said 300,000 passengers use the station daily and 1,300 people who work there had to leave their posts. "We have never had a comparable situation to this degree," a spokesman said.

Several government ministries, the German Intelligence Service, a courthouse and the Museum for Contemporary Art fall within the zone and were closed. Two hospitals had to be partially cleared.

Police went through the streets with loudhailers, knocked on doors and rung bells, urging people to evacuate.

Police later told local residents they could return to their homes.

The operation was peaceful and harmonious, a police spokeswoman said. Via Twitter, the police thanked all public transport passengers for their understanding and wished them "a good onward journey hopefully soon."

Public transport in the area had been completely shut down while the bomb was disposed of. Deutsche Bahn said local services could return to normal quite quickly, but it would take some time for long-distance trains to get back on schedule.

Flights were not disrupted, but public transport to the airport was.

Undetonated World War II bombs are frequently discovered in Germany, especially during construction projects, prompting disposal operations that often involve large-scale evacuations.

Until the end of the war in 1945, there were 380 air raids by the US, British and Russian air forces on Berlin. Historians estimate that 45,000 tons of explosives were dropped on the capital.

The city administration estimates there are still some 3 000 bombs, grenades and ammunition remnants buried under the city.