If you've been around Germany, or at least the German internet long enough, you may have come across the strange and satirical “Bielefeld Conspiracy”, which basically claims that the western city does not exist.
German jokesters' story goes that the phony town's existence is simply an illusion perpetuated by the secret SIE organization (sie meaning them in German). Even Chancellor Angela Merkel has gotten in on the hoax, mentioning in 2012 that she had once gone to an event in the city, but noting: “I had the impression that I was there”.
I'm here to tell you that Bielefeld is in fact alive and well! How do I know this? Because, I've visited Bielefeld every year since my birth.
The running gag was created in the early 1990s, partly because the city is seen as so boring that it may as well not exist. But while Bielefeld may not have much going for it, it does at least have the advantage in this post-truth world of actually being a real place.
There is more than meets the eye to Bielefeld, so here are five reasons why Bielefeld should be on your map.
1. Sparrenburg Castle
An aerial view of the Sparrenburg. Photo: DPA
Towering over the city on top of one of the hills surrounding it, the Sparrenburg is one of Bielefeld's most prized buildings.
Originally a 13th century castle, the fortress has been used over the centuries and survived countless attacks and bombardments. It was of significant strategic importance in Westphalia, and even became the largest fortress in the region in the 16th century. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV even once stayed there.
While it survived much medieval besiegement, it was mostly destroyed by an allied bombing raid in the Second World War. Only the tower remained, and it is now a museum which houses the original foundations following an excavation.
Following on from the Sparrenburg, the Hermannslauf is another institution very dear to the citizens of Bielefeld.
The race takes place on the final Sunday of April every year, and the route follows the Way of Herman, the famous German tribe leader who defeated the Romans. The race is 31km long and is one of the toughest races in Germany – because of this attracts racers from all around the world.
It starts by the Memorial for Herman the German, and goes across many arduous hills, finishing by the Sparrenburg. But if anyone wanted to race this year, I'm afraid that the 7,000-person limit was reached in January, so you'll have to try next year.
3. Bielefeld Opera
The majestic Bielefeld Opera House. Photo: DPA
Bielefeld is not only one of the province leaders in medieval fortresses, but it also plays host to the largest theatre in east Westphalia. Around 500 shows a year are put on there, with everything from ballet to opera, to new commissions in the theatre. From someone who's actually been there I have to say, the standard is pretty good.
Bielefeld's opera house is known across the world however for the Bielefeld Opernwunder, or the “Opera wonder of Bielefeld”.
Between the 1970s and 1990s under directors Heiner Bruns and Alexander Gruber, the house was brought up from being an unknown provincial theatre to putting on a range of very successful performances. Various operas were also rediscovered, having been lost under the Nazis.
The theatre drew critics from around the world, and still puts on very good performances to this day.
4. Bielefeld Zoo
Okay I admit I could be accused of scraping the barrel here, but this place is actually lovely!
Open all year round, the Bielefeld Heimat-Tierpark houses all manner of animals, letting them roam free in large open-plan compartments. The pride of place is the brown bear which dominates the hillside.
The zoo and the fantastic walks surrounding it bring people from all around North Rhine-Westphalia, making it one of Bielefeld's most popular attractions.
5. Dr. Oetker
Headquarters of Dr. Oetker in Bielefeld. Students around the world owe a lot to this company. Photo: DPA
Not that I want to give out free advertising to a multi-billion dollar company, but it just wouldn't be right to leave out one of Bielefeld's biggest gifts to the world: frozen pizza.
Okay, frozen pizza wasn't exactly invented in the small German city, but one of the world's major pizza and cake distributors, Dr. Oetker, was founded and is still based in Bielefeld.
Dr. Oetker started back in 1891 with the sale of pre-weighed baking powder. They then moved into other areas of baking and food manufacture and have continued to grow internationally over the past 100 years.
So there we have it – a list of why Bielefeld may be more than just one of Germany's most famous running jokes. But then again, I may just be another part of the conspiracy…