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Bielefeld Conspiracy

The Bielefeld Conspiracy (in German, Bielefeldverschwörung) is a running gag among German Internet users, especially in the German Usenet. It is generally considered a satirical story rather than a hoax or an urban legend.

Synopsis

The story goes that the city of Bielefeld (population 330,000) in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia does not actually exist. Rather, its existence is merely propagated by an entity known only as SIE (THEY or THEM), which has conspired with authorities to create the illusion of the city’s existence.

The theory posits three questions:

  1. Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
  2. Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
  3. Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

A majority are expected to answer 'no' to all three queries; if they don't, they, or the person they know, are said to be simply part of the conspiracy.

The origins of and reasons for this conspiracy are unknown. Speculated originators jokingly include the CIA, Mossad or aliens who use the Bielefeld University as a disguise for their spaceship.

History

The conspiracy theory was first made public in a posting to the newsgroup de.talk.bizarre on May 16, 1994, by Achim Held, a student of computer science at the University of Kiel. From there, it spread throughout the German-speaking Internet community and has lost little of its popularity after more than 10 years.

In a television interview conducted for the 10th anniversary of the newsgroup posting, Held stated that this myth definitely originated from his usenet posting which was only intended as a joke. According to Held, the idea for the conspiracy theory formed in his mind at a student party while speaking to an avid reader of New Age magazines.

There are a number of conflicting theories about the reasons behind the joke's gain in popularity, the most popular being a flame war between Usenet admins and the Bielefeld based Z-Netz BBS about text encodings.

Psychological background

At least five reasons for the popularity and wide spread of this myth can be identified:

  • This theory can be understood as an allusion to the popularity of conspiracy theories, a cultural phenomenon that became well-known in Germany with the broadcasts of the US television series The X-Files (German: Akte X) in 1994, right around the rise of this theory.
  • Another possibility may be that this is a play on the typical conspiracy theorist mindset, which tends to posit questions that may be hypothetical in nature and react based on the answer of the person to whom the question was directed. Often, conspiracy theorists will tend to brand disagreement as "brainwashing".
  • Bielefeld is located at the center of an otherwise rural region in the middle of Germany, it has few historical landmarks or buildings due to heavy bombings in World War II, and therefore few obvious tourist attractions and no widely known federal offices or institutions, which gives Bielefeld little to no public exposure. Due to all this, most Germans rarely hear of Bielefeld in the news and can't remember having ever met anyone who speaks the 'Bielefeld dialect' (since there is none), and therefore have no clear image of the city in their heads.
  • Bielefeld lies on the highly important route between the Ruhrgebiet and Berlin, with one of the busiest Autobahn routes in Germany (the A2) and the ICE railway line DortmundHannover(–Berlin). However, the Autobahn passes only through the outskirts of the city and Bielefeld's railway station, although located in the city centre, has been under constant renovation for years, giving it a suspiciously provisional feel, so a lot of people pass through Bielefeld without actually seeing any significant or 'solid' parts of the city.
  • Due to a mapping flaw, the satellite image and the street map of Bielefeld were misaligned in Google Maps' hybrid view, placing most of the street map of Bielefeld into a forest area nearby. This flaw was corrected in October 2006. It is unclear if this was an intentional easter egg on Google's side or a genuine mistake.

Official response

The city council of Bielefeld tries hard to generate publicity for Bielefeld and build a nationwide known public image of the city. Even after 13 years however, the mayor's office receives numerous phone calls and e-mails each day which doubt the existence of the city.

In 1999, five years after the myth started to spread, the city council released a press statement titled Bielefeld gibt es doch! (Bielefeld does exist!). However, the statement's publication date — April 1, 1999 (April Fools' Day) — was ill-chosen as it gave conspirationalists yet another piece of material to put into their speculations.

Despite all the efforts, the city still has a solid reputation — for obscurity. This obscurity is at a degree seldom found in a city its size, and had made it the butt of jokes even prior to the rise of this myth .

Other versions

  • In Brazil, the federal state of Acre is the subject of an equivalent running gag, to the extent of using the three questions of the Bielefeld Conspiracy to prove its inexistence. There is, however, less emphasis on the conspiratory part.

References

External links

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