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Bielefeld Conspiracy

Bielefeld Conspiracy

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The Bielefeld Conspiracy is a running gag
Running gag
A running gag, or running joke, is a literary device that takes the form of an amusing joke or a comical reference and appears repeatedly throughout a work of literature or other form of storytelling....

 and meme
Internet meme
The term Internet meme is used to describe a concept that spreads via the Internet. The term is a reference to the concept of memes, although the latter concept refers to a much broader category of cultural information.-Description:...

 among German Internet users, especially in the German Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

. It is generally considered a satirical
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 story rather than a hoax or an urban legend
Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...



The story goes that the city of Bielefeld
Bielefeld is an independent city in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Region in the north-east of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. With a population of 323,000, it is also the most populous city in the Regierungsbezirk Detmold...

 (population 330,000) in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

 does not actually exist. Rather, its existence is merely propagated by an entity
An entity is something that has a distinct, separate existence, although it need not be a material existence. In particular, abstractions and legal fictions are usually regarded as entities. In general, there is also no presumption that an entity is animate.An entity could be viewed as a set...

 known only as SIE (in this context THEY or THEM, not the polite form of YOU), which has conspired with authorities
The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

 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. Anybody claiming knowledge is said to be part of the conspiracy or being deceived themselves.

The origins of and reasons for this conspiracy are undocumented. Speculated originators jokingly include the CIA, Mossad
The Mossad , short for HaMossad leModi'in uleTafkidim Meyuchadim , is the national intelligence agency of Israel....

 or aliens
Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth...

 who use the Bielefeld University
Bielefeld University
Bielefeld University is a university in Bielefeld, Germany. Founded in 1969, it is one of the country's newer universities, and considers itself a "reform" university, following a different style of organization and teaching than the established universities...

 as a disguise for their spaceship
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....



The conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

 was first made public in a posting to the newsgroup
A usenet newsgroup is a repository usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users in different locations. The term may be confusing to some, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically distinct from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on...

 de.talk.bizarre on May 16, 1994, by Achim Held, a student of computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 at the University of Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

. From there, it spread throughout the German-speaking Internet community and has lost little of its popularity, even after 17 years.

In a television interview
An interview is a conversation between two people where questions are asked by the interviewer to obtain information from the interviewee.- Interview as a Method for Qualitative Research:"Definition" -...

 conducted for the 10th anniversary of the newsgroup posting, Held stated that this myth definitely originated from his Usenet posting which was intended only 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
New Age
The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational...


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
The Z-Netz was a German BBS network applying store and forward mechanisms to provide their users with e-mail and discussion groups. It can be compared to the U.S. based WWIV network or the international FidoNet....

Bulletin board system
A Bulletin Board System, or BBS, is a computer system running software that allows users to connect and log in to the system using a terminal program. Once logged in, a user can perform functions such as uploading and downloading software and data, reading news and bulletins, and exchanging...

 about text encoding
Character encoding
A character encoding system consists of a code that pairs each character from a given repertoire with something else, such as a sequence of natural numbers, octets or electrical pulses, in order to facilitate the transmission of data through telecommunication networks or storage of text in...


Psychological background

Some reasons for the popularity and wide spread of this myth may be the following:
  • This theory can be understood as an allusion
    An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. M. H...

     to the popularity of conspiracy theories.
  • 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 that differs significantly from Standard German
    Standard German
    Standard German is the standard variety of the German language used as a written language, in formal contexts, and for communication between different dialect areas...

    ), and therefore have no clear image
    Mental image
    A mental image is an experience that, on most occasions, significantly resembles the experience of perceiving some object, event, or scene, but occurs when the relevant object, event, or scene is not actually present to the senses...

     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
    The Intercity-Express or ICE is a system of high-speed trains predominantly running in Germany and neighbouring countries. It is the highest service category offered by DB Fernverkehr and is the flagship of Deutsche Bahn...

     railway line Dortmund
    Dortmund is a city in Germany. It is located in the Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, in the Ruhr area. Its population of 585,045 makes it the 7th largest city in Germany and the 34th largest in the European Union....

    –Hannover(–Berlin). However, the Autobahn passes only through the outskirts of the city and Bielefeld's railway station, although located in the city centre, underwent significant renovation
    Renovation is the process of improving a structure. Two prominent types of renovations are commercial and residential.-Process:The process of a renovation, however complex, can usually be broken down into several processes...

     until late 2007, 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.

Official response

The city council
City council
A city council or town council is the legislative body that governs a city, town, municipality or local government area.-Australia & NZ:Because of the differences in legislation between the States, the exact definition of a City Council varies...

 of Bielefeld tries hard to generate publicity for Bielefeld and build a nationwide known public image of the city. Even after 17 years, however, the mayor's office receives 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
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

) – was ill-chosen as it gave conspirationalists yet another piece of material to put into their speculations..


In 2009, film students of the Bielefeld University started a project to develop a feature film based on the Bielefeld Conspiracy. The project was financed by the university and local sponsors. Most of the project staff and actors were students or university employees, in addition a few professionals joined the project like the actress Julia Kahl and the camera man Alexander Böke. The screenplay was written by Thomas Walden. The movie finally premiered in Bielefeld on June 2, 2010.

Other versions

  • In Brazil
    Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

    , the federal state of Acre
    Acre (state)
    Acre is one of the 27 states of Brazil. It is situated in the southwest of the Northern Region, bordering Amazonas to the north, Rondônia to the east, Bolivia to the southeast and the Ucayali Region of Peru to the south and west. It occupies an area of 152,581.4 km2, being slightly smaller...

     is the subject of an equivalent running gag, to the extent of using the three questions of the Bielefeld Conspiracy to prove its nonexistence. There is, however, less emphasis on the conspiratory part.
  • In Italy
    Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

    , the region of Molise
    Molise is a region of Southern Italy, the second smallest of the regions. It was formerly part of the region of Abruzzi e Molise and now a separate entity...

     has the same role as Bielefeld. Since Molise has been the ground for several political men, such as former Justice Minister Clemente Mastella
    Clemente Mastella
    Mario Clemente Mastella is an Italian politician. He is currently leader of Popular-UDEUR, a minor centrist Italian party. He was Minister of Labour in the Berlusconi government from 10 May 1994 to 17 January 1995, and Minister of Justice in the Prodi government from 17 May 2006 to 17 January 2008...

     and former magistrate Antonio Di Pietro
    Antonio Di Pietro
    Antonio Di Pietro is an Italian politician. He was a Member of the European Parliament, an Italian Senator, and Minister of the Prodi Government...

    , it is implied that they might be involved in the conspiracy.
  • On USENET, a similar joke was told about North Dakota
    North Dakota
    North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

     in the 1980s.http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~kinzler/nodak.html Variations on this have spread throughout the internet, often focusing on other obscure states, such as Nebraska
    Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

    , Idaho
    Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

     and Wyoming
    Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

    . In the case of the last, if the answer to No. 1 is Dick Cheney
    Dick Cheney
    Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney served as the 46th Vice President of the United States , under George W. Bush....

    , the response is "Of course, he's one of THEM!". Another example is found in a short sketch in an episode of the cartoon serial "Garfield And Friends", where Garfield appeared in front of a map of the USA with an empty space where Wyoming normally exists. Garfield claimed that Wyoming did not in fact exist, and that the name of the state was an old Italian word for "no state here".
  • In his satirical almanac, The Areas of My Expertise
    The Areas of My Expertise
    The Areas of My Expertise is a satirical almanac by John Hodgman. It is written in the form of absurd historical stories, complex charts and graphs, and fake newspaper columns. Among its sections are a list of 700 different hobo names and complete descriptions of "all 51" US states...

    , John Hodgman
    John Hodgman
    John Kellogg Hodgman is an American author, actor, and humorist. In addition to his published written works, such as The Areas of My Expertise, More Information Than You Require, and That Is All, he is known for his personification of a PC in contrast to Justin Long's personification of a Mac in...

     claims that the city of Chicago is a myth, and debunks supposedly pervasive “dubious fables of Chicago.”
  • Several modern internet communities enjoy pretending Belgium
    Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

     does not exist. These beliefs stem from a 1995 posting to a Cascadian BBS by Lyle Zapato.http://zapatopi.net/belgium/
  • In the UK, there are satirical running gags that Matlock, Worksop
    Worksop is the largest town in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire, England on the River Ryton at the northern edge of Sherwood Forest. It is about east-south-east of the City of Sheffield and its population is estimated to be 39,800...

    , Northallerton
    Northallerton is an affluent market town and civil parish in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England. It lies in the Vale of Mowbray and at the northern end of the Vale of York. It has a population of 15,741 according to the 2001 census...

     or even the whole of Wales
    Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

     do not exist.
  • In Israel, there is a similar gag about Petah Tikva
    Petah Tikva
    Petah Tikva known as Em HaMoshavot , is a city in the Center District of Israel, east of Tel Aviv.According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2009, the city's population stood at 209,600. The population density is approximately...

  • In 90's Chile, the TV show "Plaza Italia"'s host always said at the beginning of the show that "Combarbalá does not exist". Even when people from Combarbalá
    Combarbalá is a Chilean city and commune, located in the Limarí Province, Coquimbo Region. The overall population of the commune is about 14.000 inhabitants, while the population of the city is about 6000 inhabitants...

     (either missing the point or keeping up with the joke) sent him letters and packages from there to prove they did exist.
  • The town of Teruel
    Teruel is a town in Aragon, eastern Spain, and the capital of Teruel Province. It has a population of 34,240 in 2006 making it one of the least populated provincial capitals in the country...

     in Spain is the capital of the province of the same name, but its low population and mountainous location makes it relatively obscure within Spain. A campaign group with the slogan Teruel existe ("Teruel exists") was founded in 1999 to press for greater recognition and investment in the town and the province (the campaign was successful, but Teruel remains the only provincial capital in Spain without a direct railway link to the capital, Madrid). This, however, only served to spur joking comments stating Teruel no existe, i. e. "Teruel does not exist".
  • On The Simpsons
    The Simpsons
    The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

    , when Lisa
    Lisa Simpson
    Lisa Marie Simpson is a fictional main character in the animated television series The Simpsons. She is the middle child of the Simpson family. Voiced by Yeardley Smith, Lisa first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987. Cartoonist Matt Groening...

     is frightened of ghosts, Bart
    Bart Simpson
    Bartholomew JoJo "Bart" Simpson is a fictional main character in the animated television series The Simpsons and part of the Simpson family. He is voiced by actress Nancy Cartwright and first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987...

     assures her that ghosts don't exist, "like the Loch Ness monster
    Loch Ness Monster
    The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid that is reputed to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, though its description varies from one account to the next....

    ! Or North Dakota
    North Dakota
    North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

  • In Russia, among Internet users there is a "belief" that there is nothing outside Moscow, that all the Russia, that lies outside of MCAD (Moscow Circle Road) is a nuclear desert, with couple of gas and oil pipelines, guarded by bears and KGB agents. The KGB also built decorations along the railroads to fake the existence of life on Russian territory, and all the Internet users claiming to be from outside of Moscow are also undercover agents.
  • In Turkey
    Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

    , a similar belief about Bilecik
    -External links:* http://www.eksisozluk.com/show.asp?t=bilecik%20diye%20bir%20yerin%20asl%C4%B1nda%20olmamas%C4%B1%20 Bilecik Conspiracy* http://www.bilecikaktuel.com* * http://www.voyagerbook.com/eng/iller/11/11.asp*...

     is popular among internet users, popularized by users of Ekşi Sözlük. http://www.eksisozluk.com/show.asp?t=bilecik+diye+bir+yerin+asl%C4%B1nda+olmamas%C4%B1