Why is Bielefeld offering €1 million to anyone who proves it doesn’t exist?

Bielefeld, in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is offering the large sum to anyone who can provide proof of its non-existence.

Why is Bielefeld offering €1 million to anyone who proves it doesn't exist?
The tower of the Sparrenburg Castle, and symbol of Bielefeld. Photo: DPA

“If you can prove that Bielefeld really does not exist, you will win a million euros,” states the city's homepage in a section titled “#DieBielefeldmillion. Das Ende einer Verschwörung (The end of a conspiracy theory).”

The city, home to just over 330,000 people, has struggled for years with the perception that it doesn't actually exist, and is, in fact, all part of an enormous conspiracy. 

Now on the 25th anniversary of the theory, it aims to put the myth to bed (or hand over a €1 million).

“All friends of the Bielefeld conspiracy theory have a last chance to prove it!” tweeted Bielefeld on its official city account, with a picture proclaiming “Bielefeld: too nice not to be true!”

This belief stems from a series of postings on Usenet in 1994 by university student Achim Held, who wanted to demonstrate how quickly conspiracy theories can form and spread. 

He noted that you never seem to meet anyone from Bielefeld, nor do you ever hear of any major industry or German innovation originating in the town. 

Bielefeld, in past centuries, is believed to have had a reputation as a prosperous centre of the cloth trade, as well as being the headquarters of baking conglomerate Dr Oetker. Today it is also home of the University of Bielefeld, which has a student body of around 25,000.

Is this the campus of the University of Bielefeld or part of a complex cover-up? Photo: DPA

Held also posited that shadowy individuals, only known as 'SIE' ('THEM') must be responsible for the illusion of a 'Bielefeld', and work to keep the truth from the German people. 

Held's creation quickly spread from the internet into the real world, becoming a part of German popular culture, and making the city the butt of countless jokes by comedians. 

Even Chancellor Angela Merkel has referenced the conspiracy in a speech she gave, joking that although she had attended a meeting in Bielefeld in 2012, she has no way of knowing whether she was really there. 

Of course, such a warm-hearted, feel-good story of a internet joke gone viral could be the perfect cover story for a much darker truth. 

Over the last twenty-six years, thousands of internet postings have suggested that the alleged city is merely a front for groups as diverse as the Freemasons, extraterrestrials, the CIA and the German government, among others. 

Merkel in Bielefeld's City Hall in 2012 – or was she? Photo: DPA

The city referenced some of the conspiracy theories itself: “Bielefeld doesn't exist? Bielefeld should be the access to Atlantis? Little green men are supposed to have disguised their spaceship as Bielefeld University?” it wrote on its website.

Previous efforts to pierce the veil of secrecy and ascertain the truth of what Bielefeld truly hides have to date come to naught, with investigators unwilling or unable to provide compelling evidence. 

At the time of publication, The Local could not confirm whether the €1 million reward was a genuine push for publicity, trading on the joke's popularity, or merely another in a complex web of lies, meant to deceive us all.

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Is Leipzig really Germany’s ‘ultimate travel destination’?

The Saxonian city of Leipzig has been named by traveller’s bible Lonely Planet as its “ultimate” travel tip for Germany. Does the Local Germany’s knowledgeable readership agree?

The city centre of Leipzig.
The city centre of Leipzig. Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa-Zentralbild

Long a cult favourite among Germany fans, the left-wing city of Leipzig appears to now be gaining mainstream recognition after the Lonely Planet crowned it the country’s top travel destination this week.

In a new book titled “Ultimate German Travel Destinations – the top 250”, the travel publisher put Leipzig ahead of picturesque getaways such as Lake Constance and the Zugspitze as its number one destination.

“The hype that some say surrounds the city isn’t hype t all: Leipzig really is hipper than Berlin, and hotter than Munich, especially among millennials,” the guidebook boldly claims.

It goes on to lavish praise on the city of 600,000 inhabitants as “young, exciting, multifaceted – sometimes colourful, sometimes grey – and with a vibrant liveliness.”

“Everyone wants to go to the city where the anti-GDR demonstrations started,” the guidebook continues. “It is the home of Auerbachs Keller (made famous by Goethe and Faust); it’s the city of street art and wave gothic festivals; and its artistic scene at the Baumwollspinnerei is second to none.”

READ ALSO: A love letter to the eastern German city of Leipzig

‘Not cooler than Berlin’

Reaction to the list among the Local’s readership was mixed.

“It is a beautiful city and it’s easy to navigate. I find it hard to say that it’s cooler than Berlin, though. Berlin simply has more,” one reader told us on Facebook. “It’s the kind of place where people find their ‘spot.” I think most people in Leipzig know about most places in Leipzig. It’s a much smaller city. That may just be a more favourable lifestyle for some.”

Praise for Saxony’s biggest city ranged from admiration for the beauty of its architecture (particularly its train station) to the vibrancy of its arts scene.

Others suggested that Leipzig is indeed overhyped and that it can’t compete with natural wonders such as the pristine Königssee in the Bavarian Alps.

Lake Constance wins silver

Lake Constance, the country’s largest body of fresh water, came in second on the list.

The authors praised the southern See, which borders Switzerland and Austria, for “the many beautiful spots on its shores: Lindau, Meersburg, Überlingen, Constance and more – often surrounded by lush orchards.”

A regatta on the Bodensee in September 2021. Photo: dpa | Felix Kästle 

Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall came in third. 

“It’s impossible to imagine the Hanseatic city’s skyline without this glass work of art, which soars into the sky above the harbour like a frozen wave,” the book notes.

Also in the top ten were the Wattenmeer, which is a huge nature reserve on the North Sea coast, Berlin’s museum island, the sandstone hills of Saxony, and Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze in Bavaria.