For the past 16 years there has been a rumour within the German USENET community. It is a running joke but one with much greater longevity than almost anything on the internet. It involves the city of Bielefeld, population 330,000, in the German province of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Simply put, on May 16, 1994 a rumour was released, saying that it simply doesn’t exist. Instead it is propagated by an entity only known as SIE(THEM, in English) which has links with the authorities established in such a way as to create the illusion that the city of Bielefeld actually existing.
It is phrased as thus :
- Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?
- Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
- Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?
If the answer to all those is ‘no’ then those involved claim that the theory is true. If the third answer is ‘yes’ then they say that the person you know is a part of the conspiracy.
Nobody is sure how it started, some refer to Mossad(Israel’s secret service) or aliens which used Bielefeld University as a disguise for their spaceship. Regardless of claimed source, it is apparent that this is not true, however many people have been convinced that the city of Bielefeld actually doesn’t exist.
For the past fifteen years, starting just after the introduction of the rumour, the mayor’s office has received regular letters, phone calls and email from those who doubt the city’s existence. So great was this nuisance that there was even an official response.
In 1999, just 5 years after the initial myth was spread the city council released a press statement titled Bielefeld gibt es doch! (Bielefeld does exist!). Unfortunately they were careless with the timing. The statement was released on April Fools’ Day. This allowed the would-be conspiracy theorists to discount the announcement and add it to their evidence against the ‘fictional’ city.
The city council has strived hard to raise the public profile of Bielefeld but all to no avail. All the city is really known for, is not being known, pure obscurity of a scale very rarely achieved by a city of its size. In fact it is so well-known for being unknown that even before the myth spread it was the butt of jokes for its extreme obscurity.
This joke or hoax is a rare thing amongst the internet, something durable that stands the test of time. Psychologists have come up with many a reason as to its enduring popularity. Personally I believe it is just satisfying. Exactly as mentioned above, for over 15 years there has been a consistent stream of people who doubt the city’s very existence. That must be some kind of thrill for the conspirators within this peculiar tale of deceit. Also though, it carries a warning. We find all kind of lies and theories scattered throughout life. And as this case shows, if we don’t behave with reasonable skepticism or rational thought, we are easily tricked.
Keep an eye out, stay alert and remember Bielefeld. It’s a nice place – or is it?