Do you want a chance to win $1.1 million? Well, we have the competition for you – provided you are from Germany and 18 plus, that is.
The city of Bielefeld, Germany, is part of a long-running conspiracy theory or joke (depending on your position) that claims it doesn't really exist. To achieve millionaire status, all you have to do is prove the conspiracy theorists right and demonstrate once and for all that Bielefeld is a fictional entity, concocted by a shady organization with disingenuous motives.
Entrants have until September 5, 2019, to send any evidence – pictures, videos, text, or interpretive dance – to Bielefeld Marketing GmbH, the only criteria being that the case is "incontrovertible". And while the competition organizers say they are 99.99 percent certain they will be able to refute any evidence, anyone who can prove them wrong will be in for a shot of winning the full sum provided for by the marketing group's sponsors.
The history of the Bielefeld conspiracy goes back to 1994 when a computer scientist called Achim Held posted the claim on the computer forum Usenet. His purpose: to ridicule conspiracy theories.
According to the theory, Bielefeld is an illusion created by a made-up organization called SIE (German for THEY) with (maybe) some help from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad or (possibly) some assistance from aliens, who are using Bielefeld's university (or illusion of) to hide their spaceship.
To "prove" their story right, believers ask three questions. One, have you ever been to Bielefeld? Two, do you know anybody from Bielefeld? And three, do you know anyone who has been to Bielefeld? There are pretty clear flaws in this line of questioning that probably don't need explaining. Still, according to Atlas Obscura, it is convincing enough that Bielefeld's mayor regularly fields queries asking him if the city he serves is real.
Twenty-five years later and it is going strong, with even Chancellor Angela Merkel cracking a joke after a 2012 visit to the city, telling audiences in Berlin "so it does exist". And like any good story, the fiction has grown. According to some believers, Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain may be alive and well – in Bielefeld. Others have suggested the CIA use the German city to stop JFK spilling the beans on the truth behind the moon landing (tying three conspiracy theories into one).
It's hard to tell if Bielefeld truthers are genuine believers or jokesters, but scientific studies have shown that people more inclined to align themselves with conspiracy theories may do so because they are more likely to misunderstand probabilities, hate uncertainty, and/or want to see themselves as unique.
But unless you can prove otherwise, Bielefeld is very much a real city in the north-east of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is home to more than 300,000 people, Dr Oetker, and a castle, and has its own website.