Bielefeld Doesn’t Exist
When you go searching on the internet for useful information on Bielefeld, good luck finding real answers. Hop on any forum, thread or discussion board asking for things to do while visiting Bielefeld, or god forbid if you needed urgent information, don’t be surprised if all the answers say:
“Bielefeld? That place doesn’t exist.”
“I think I saw a sign for it once, but nothing was there.”
“I have never met anyone from Bielefeld.”
“Have you ever been to Bielefeld?”
“Bielefeld? You must be one of Them.”
Let me introduce you to the Bielefeld Conspiracy (and in turn, what Germans call humor).
It’s the longest running joke in Germany, and even the city of Bielefeld is in on it.
The Bielefeld Conspiracy could be considered the first meme, born on a forum in the early days of the Internet, when someone posted they were from Bielefeld and was told, “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht” which literally translated as “it doesn’t exist.” Since then, this idea of a city of 300,000 people not existing has become one of the biggest jokes in Germany, centered around an overblown, joke conspiracy of SIE (THEM), which asks three questions:
- Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?
- Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
- Do you know anybody who has been to Bielefeld?
Some people go so far as to jokingly claim that They include Elvis, John F. Kennedy, the CIA, or aliens, who use Universität Bielefeld as their spaceship (I can see that, the building looks weird).
One of Them
What makes the Bielefeld Conspiracy so compelling is that overall, Bielefeld is not a well-known city even within Germany.
Bielefeld has a castle, but in terms of castles in Germany, it’s not particularly marvelous and awe-inspiring (sorry, Sparrenburg, I love you, but you’re not Disney-worthy). There are no major natural features like oceans, mountains, or rivers. Bielefeld is home to some major institutions, however. Universität Bielefeld, Dr. Oetker, Bethel, and um…. Ya that’s pretty much it. But let’s not forget our world class football team! DSC Arminia! Oh, what’s that? We haven’t won a game all season? 🤦♀️
Sounds like Bielefeld is easy to forget about.
So easy, in fact that even Angela Merkel forgets Bielefeld exists.
“I had the impression that I was there,” Angela Merkel
But sometimes, it’s nice to have a reputation of not existing. You go in without any preconceived notions, without any expectations or opinions of a place you have yet to see for yourself. The idea of Bielefeld not existing has allowed for me to explore it and watch it form in front of me.
Existence is Overrated
It’s great to know that our 800+ year old castle doesn’t exist, with its underground tunnels and tower looking over the city. We’ll keep that secret to ourselves. The tourists can have the Black Forest; we have the Teutoburg Forest that snakes along the edge of Bielefeld, where the Germans held off Roman invaders centuries ago. We’re keeping Bethel a secret too, one of the finest institutions for special needs care and public health in Europe. Although, it becomes difficult to say Bielefeld doesn’t exist on game day, when Schüco Arena is sold out and the chants are loud enough to hear across the city. And even when Arminia loses (because it’s inevitable), fans in blue, white, and black walk home singing and chanting.
If this is what it means to not exist, I’m in.
But to all the Germans that joke “das gibt es nicht,” I must ask you one of the three questions:
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Because I think you might really like it.
Then again, I am one of them.
What do you think about the Bielefeld Conspiracy? What conspiracies or jokes does your country have? Do you think Germans could find a better way to help people interested in Bielefeld, or is it best that the city stays a mystery?