Bielefeld: I don’t believe it exists

I love hearing stories about the NRW. It’s one of the side-benefits that has turned into the big benefit of having this website. When people find out I have this site, they’re ready with the local stories that they may not have even thought of mentioning before.

One of the first stories I heard was about Bielefeld. I was at a dinner party talking about my new site when the host said, “Don’t forget, Bielefeld doesn’t exist.”

“What?”

He looked it up and sent me a post about it immediately. And a few weeks later, I planned a weekend trip to the city that doesn’t exist.

Photo credit: Belle NRW

What do you mean Bielefeld doesn’t exist?

This whole idea started as an internet prank back in the mid-1990s. It was likely a sarcastic response in an online forum when two people disagreed about something. One person noticed the other was from Bielefeld and, with the thoughts of discrediting the other person’s argument, said, “Bielefeld doesn’t exist.” Then made the following points:

  • Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?
  • Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
  • Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?

As things tend to do on the internet, this idea spread quickly. And as my friend asked those of us at the party this question, we all looked around and realized that none of us – the locals who’ve lived in the NRW most of their lives, the people starting the website focused solely on the NRW, nor the rest of the guests – have ever been to Bielefeld. Dun-dun-DUN!

Adding to the fodder

Why is a silly internet joke from 20 years ago still alive today? Coincidence. Little things continued to happen that would thwart any belief in the city’s existence. When google maps was first released, the word “Bielefeld” showed up indicating it was there – but nothing would show up on the satellite views. No buildings, no houses, no roads. When the city made the big announcement that they do, in fact, exist, people thought it was a prank. They made the announcement on April Fool’s Day.

The more people thought about it; the more evidence of it’s non existence surfaced. Do they have any big businesses? Where are their major tourist attractions? Why, in a state with so many large cities, does Bielefeld have so few mentions? Why is it that when we travel through Bielefeld via train, the Hauptbahnhof seems to be more on the outskirts of a town than the town’s center? Even Angela Merkel alluded to the mystery after a visit to the city when she mentioned, “… if it exists at all.”

This year the marketing team behind the “city” is celebrating Bielefeld’s 800-year anniversary. As part of their campaign, they include the funny motto “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht.” (Translation: This does not actually exist -or- I don’t believe it.)

So, does it exist?

I took the Bielefeld challenge. We booked an overnight trip and headed over. Our itinerary included the types of things families with young kids typically enjoy.

We went straight to the zoo. It’s a little different than most zoos people are familiar with because it’s both free and open 24 hours. With those qualifications, I assumed the zoo was going to be run down and dirty. It wasn’t. It was incredibly clean and natural. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized this zoo wasn’t helping Bielefeld claim to existence. The idea of a well-maintained free zoo open 24 hours seems almost as mythical as the city. Also not helping the city’s cause? The zoo is actually just outside of the Bielefeld border.

We crossed into Bielefeld shortly after we left the zoo. We immediately noted that the city has buildings, green space, attractions that would be considered tourist attractions (if tourists visit the city), a castle on a hill, public transportation for commuters, public transportation for tourists (if tourists visit the city), restaurants, shops, people, and everything else cities that exist have. The only thing missing was the traffic.

As soon as we verified there was a Bielefeld, we realized something else. It feels like a secret. The surrounding natural beauty, the low prices for nice hotels, the good food – these are the types of places people want to keep to themselves. They want to enjoy them without fear of crowds. Maybe the people perpetuated the lie. Maybe things are fine just the way they are. Maybe tourists can keep driving past the city.

If you do happen to go there, though, please don’t tell your friends.

Photo credit: Belle NRW

Photo credit: Belle NRW

 

Books about Bielefeld

If you’re fluent in German, you can read this satire of the the scientific research behind the satire of the whole idea of this conspiracy here. Gibt es Bielefeld oder gibt es Bielefeld nicht? (<<Amazon affiliate link)

 

Photo credit: Belle NRW

Does the city of Bielefeld, Germany exist?

 

9 Comments

  1. JessieV
    JessieV
    November 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm Reply

    I’d SOOOO go to visit there – looks beautiful!

  2. Shelly
    Shelly
    November 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm Reply

    OMG! My high school German teacher did an exchange with a teacher from Bielefeld. She spent the year teaching in Bielefeld, and the Bielefeldian teacher spent a year teaching us. We each got a Bielefeldian penpal for the year, too. I never questioned whether it existed or not! Our teacher had a great time and loved the city.

  3. Ann
    Ann (Listing owner)
    November 3, 2014 at 9:44 am Reply

    It really is beautiful there.

    Shelly – that is too funny about your German teacher. I’m glad to know that it even really existed before I saw it for myself! And this comment has inspired me to write a post about my own weird connection to this place from well before I moved here.

  4. Claudia
    Claudia
    November 4, 2014 at 10:49 pm Reply

    A friend of mine was there for work on her anniversary day. I husband went there and surprised her with an amazing dinner at a restaurant in a former church, gorgeous setting. It’s called “Glück und Seligkeit” – Happiness and Bliss.

    1. Ann
      Ann (Listing owner)
      November 5, 2014 at 10:00 am Reply

      I love the name of that restaurant! Sounds magical.

  5. Henry | @fotoeins
    Henry | @fotoeins
    November 8, 2014 at 8:31 am Reply

    It does feel like I’m taking part in a big secret, that I enter and leave the city on a voluntary basis. I can hear the open-mouthed response: “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht!” 😉 But really, Bielefeld works fine, like any other German city, and certainly, Oetker’s spirit is everywhere. I also have very good friends here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂 Thanks for writing about the “BI”!

  6. Heidi Wagoner
    Heidi Wagoner
    November 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm Reply

    What a great story. Now I want to go too!

  7. Jeremy
    Jeremy
    March 12, 2015 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Haha… I did my study abroad in Bielefeld in 2012. It’s a gorgeous place. Spent three and a half months there.

    1. Ann
      Ann (Listing owner)
      March 25, 2015 at 5:31 pm Reply

      It’s funny how many people are familiar with Bielefeld who have either never lived there or were there a short time.

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