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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Bielefeld Doesn’t Exist

At least once in your life you must have heard a conspiracy theory about the faked moon landing by NASA, the attack of 9/11 or chemtrails. But what are those conspiracy theories and where do they come from? Conspiracy theories are generally theories that mix up facts with made-up assumptions. Usually, a conspiracy theory consists of a suspicion that a coalition or group, such as the CIA, is involved and made secret agreements or even evil plans. It is often said that “They” harm “Us”.

These certain types of theories can also be used to explain inexplicable or threatening events, which is a natural impulse to try to make sense and understand things that seem to have no rational explanation, like the conspiracy theories around the Bermuda triangle.

It is not a new phenomenon that people believe in those theories and they have existed for hundreds of years even before the Internet. However, social media and the Internet have contributed tremendously to the spread of conspiracy theories and the attention they get. People from all over the world are able to come together, exchange ideas and bring forward evidence about certain theories to other people. Especially in the area of politics, you can nowadays read a lot of different conspiracy theories on every social media platform.

In general, conspiracy theories are not only theories for people who wear tinfoil hats. The political science professor Eric Oliver from the University of Chicago claimed that if you took a survey and listed five or six of the most famous conspiracy theories, such as the faked moon landing or that 9/11 was an inside job, half of the participants would at least mark one of these theories as correct.

There might be some theories that seem absurd, such as the earth being flat, but there are others that will even make sense to a person who considers himself to be a rational person; the following theory is not one of them.

One interesting conspiracy theory that was invented by a student but became very popular is the Bielefeld conspiracy theory. The Bielefeld conspiracy is a conspiracy theory that is meant to be satirical but shows the mechanism that also characterizes the serious conspiracy theories: A worldview that hides information that does not fit into their image – or simply incorporates it into the theory.

The theory claims that the city Bielefeld in Germany (population of 333.090) does not exist.

Achim Held came up with this conspiracy theory at a student party in the 90s to make fun of absurd conspiracy theories. One student at this party claimed that he was from Bielefeld to which some other guy responded: “Bielefeld? Bielefeld doesn’t exist!”

Achim Held then asked several people if they have ever been to Bielefeld and almost everyone responded this with a no. A few days later he passed the “Bielefeld exit” at a highway and because of construction work all the signs with “Bielefeld” were crossed out. Thereupon, Achim Held published a text in the Usenet (the predecessor of the internet) that “They” only fool us into thinking this city exists. “They” would manipulate maps and let cars with fake “BI” license plates drive around the country. In Germany, every city has the letters of the city on the license plate: “BI” = Bielefeld. When people asked him who could be behind this conspiracy, he named the usual suspects: Secret service, aliens or whoever you would like to be responsible for it.

Nowadays, the Bielefeld theory is a quite established theory in Germany and is characterised by three questions:

  1. Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?

  2. Have you ever been to Bielefeld?

  3. Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?

Most of the people you would ask those questions can only answer them with no, because visiting Bielefeld might not be on top of the bucket list for many people. However, those who can positively answer the questions and say that they know Bielefeld will simply be discredited as part of the group that wants to make you believe Bielefeld exists.

The city Bielefeld uses this theory for its city marketing and this summer it posted a one-million-euro reward for anyone who can prove that Bielefeld does not exist.

More than 2000 people from all over the world tried to disprove the existence through mathematical approaches, comics from Uzbekistan or even the attempt from Silicon Valley to “program Bielefeld away”. None of these attempts proved that Bielefeld does not exist and unfortunately nobody won the #bielefeldmillion – the theory is therefore officially refuted.

Even though the Bielefeld conspiracy has been refuted, it is a conspiracy theory that is fun to ‘believe’ in. Theories about the faked moon landing or chemtrails however are harder to prove or disprove because both sides will come up with evidence, whether these are valid or not. Those kinds of theories will therefore continue to exist and humans will always come up with new ones. Who knows, maybe tomorrow a theory will arise that Maastricht doesn’t exist.


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