September 9, 2019
A city with a population of 340,000 in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany is daring people to prove it doesn’t exist—for a prize of 1 million euros (US$1.1 million).
Officials in Bielefeld announced the competition last month, saying that there are “no limits to creativity,” but only incontrovertible evidence will be rewarded, according to a report by SFGate.
What is known as the “ Bielefeld Conspiracy “ originated in 1994 as a spoof on Internet conspiracies, in general. A member of a German Internet forum claimed at that time that the city existed “only as an illusion, possibly invented by the CIA.”
It has been 25 years, yet the conspiracy continues to spread —so much so, according to Atlas Obscura, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joked about the hoax. What’s more, Mayor Pit Klausen of Bielefeld says that he receives emails from across the country asking if the city truly exists.
Indeed, believers in the conspiracy ask three questions:
- Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
- Do you know anybody who lives there?
- Do you know anyone who has ever been there?
The city’s marketing agency said on September 5 that it had received more than 2,000 emails by the September 4 deadline—close to 300 of them, from abroad. The winner will be announced on September 17.
Research contact: @SFGate