SHARE
COPY LINK

TOURISM

‘Bielefeld exists!’: How a German city debunked an old conspiracy

A €1 million reward for anyone who can prove Bielefeld's nonexistence remains untouched, the western German city has announced.

'Bielefeld exists!': How a German city debunked an old conspiracy
The mythological Bielefeld has now officially been proven to exist. Photo: DPA

In August, the western Germany city of Bielefeld sought to dispel a longstanding conspiracy theory that it doesn’t actually exist.

Its marketing department came up with a simple solution: a €1 million reward to anyone who could prove that there is, indeed, no Bielefeld.

The marketing campaign #BielefeldMillion”, launched on August 21st, received thousands of entries from all over the world, including over 300 from abroad from countries including the US and Russia, reported the Tagesschau. 

But now the city of 340,000 inhabitants in North Rhine-Westphalia considers its existence to be proven and has declared the so-called Bielefeld conspiracy to be over. 

“The result of the competition is: Bielefeld exists,” said Mayor Pit Clausen at a ceremony on Monday.

In addition to a large number of poems, children's pictures, comics and videos, participants also presented supposedly scientific evidence – with arguments from mathematics, physics, logic and history, according to Bielefeld Martketing.

Bielefeld's marketing department tweeted one of the entries they received from abroad, which was disqualified because it was sent to and received in Bielefeld itself.

“These papers were often not comprehensible to laymen,” explained Jens Franzke, head of communications at Bielefeld Marketing.

“So we had fun cracking this supposed evidence together with scientists from the University of Bielefeld and the Bielefeld City Archives.”

Germany's Federal Office for Geography and Surveying (BKG)  even published a map of Germany – with Bielefeld omitted. In response, Bielefeld Marketing quipped: “First day of school: BKG unfortunately has to serve detention.”

Local companies also chimed in with rewards. A pudding manufacturer and a local condom company each offered a million of their products to anyone who could prove their city’s nonexistence, they announced on Twitter. 

Second division soccer team Arminia Bielefeld also offered a place in its squad.

Beginnings of a conspiracy

The competition marked the 25th anniversary of the so-called Bielefeld Conspiracy. In 1994, university student Achim Held wanted to demonstrate how quickly conspiracy theories can form and spread. 

In a series of postings on Usenet, 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.

READ ALSO: Why is Bielefeld offering €1 million to anyone who can prove its nonexistence?

However, satire developed into a permanent gag: “Bielefeld? That doesn't even exist” became a catchphrase.

 “Our answer to the Bielefeld conspiracy has not only made positive headlines in the whole of Germany, but around the world, and has aroused many sympathies for our city,” Clausen stated.

“After 25 years of Bielefeld conspiracy, we have given Bielefeld its own spectacular final chapter to this strange story,” Clausen added. “Therefore we can now give ourselves the right to say: We say goodbye to the fairy tale that we do not exist at all”.

Held himself said he was also impressed by the city's marketing campaign.

“When I published the satire of the Bielefeld conspiracy on the Internet in 1994, I wanted to make fun of conspiracy theories in general,” explained Held, who said he was not interested in Bielefeld in particular when he made the post. 

Truth set in stone

When the joke became increasingly known over the years, the people of Bielefeld certainly weren't always happy.

“But with this funny action, the city gave the perfect answer to the saying that Bielefeld didn't exist,” Held stated. “Who could say that now?”

In the old town of Bielefeld, there is now even a memorial stone to commemorate the campaign for the Bielefeld conspiracy. The 600 kilogram boulder includes a QR code which, when scanned, takes visitors to the city's official website.

The unveiling of the stone on Monday.

The stone is intended to bring together the history of the 800-year-old city and the with that of one of Germany's first internet phenomena.

Vocabulary

“Bielefeld? That doesn’t even exist ” – “Bielefeld? Das gibt es doch gar nicht” 

Conspiracy – (die) Verschwörung

hoax/joke – (der) Scherz

Evidence – (die) Beweise

comprehendible/understandable – nachvollziehbar

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

SHOW COMMENTS