‘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.


“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.

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!