Anyone who used to click around a bit on German-language websites in the early years of the 21st century has probably come across a phenomenon known as The Bielefeld Conspiracy.
This is essentially a spoof on conspiracy theories, much like The Idaho Conspiracy in the United States.
The main (tongue-in-cheek) premise of The Bielefeld Conspiracy Theory is that there is no such place. Bielefeld doesn’t really exist. The main arguments are:
“Well, you’ve never been to Bielefeld, have you? And you don’t know anybody from there, do you?
It’s a safe assumption that most people will answer NO to these questions, so the conclusion is that some shadowy unknown powers (the CIA, perhaps, or MI6?) have launched a vast conspiracy to convince us that there is a city of 330,000 people called Bielefeld in an obscure corner of the Teutoburg Forest in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. They say the conspirators have gone to great lengths to perpetrate this illusion, including having people drive around Germany with fake Bielefeld license plates on their cars.
OK, I don’t usually believe in conspiracy theories, but I must admit that when my textbook publisher asked me to go to Bielefeld in 2007 to do a presentation I was perhaps just a trifle dubious; just a tiny nagging doubt, that’s all, nothing big. And the German railway system didn’t help matters because they were really chaotic on that Saturday morning and just barely got me there in time.
Now that I have been there, though, I can confirm that Bielefeld really does exist. Right across from the (really existing) railroad station there is a hotel called the Mövenpick Hotel, which I am also quite sure really exists because I did my presentation there. Or have I unwittingly become a part of the conspiracy?
Afterwards I rented a bicycle at the station and spent the rest of the afternoon riding around Bielefeld.
It really is an attractive town with lots of parks and well-marked bicycle lanes. Also, it has a modern new university and a quaint-looking 114-year-old city theater.
And it is the home of a soccer team called Arminia Bielefeld, which has had its ups and downs over the years and is now (as of 2017) back in the second federal soccer league, though they have also had seventeen seasons in the first.
My photos in this post are from 2007. I revised the text in 2017.