German humour and conspiracy theories

The making of an absurd conspiracy theory, back in 1994.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Conspiracy theories are on the rise everywhere, and Germany is no exception. I recently talked about how QAnon is massive here, tapping into buried anti-semitic narratives, and uniting with the far-right Reichsbürger Movement, which believes that Germany is not a free democracy but a corporation set up by the allies after World War II with Merkel — or now Scholz, I guess — as a puppet leader.

However, as with all systems of belief, there are many off-shoots and contradictions; Merkel might be the grand daughter of Hitler, Merkel might be a Zionist Jew, she might even have made the entire pandemic up to stop Trump from liberating Germany. Whatever. Best not to think about this stuff too much.

What really caught my interest, though, was the Bielefeld conspiracy theory. I was on a call, where a German asked the question: “How do we reach the people in Bielefeld?” Since Bielefeld is a pretty average city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, I assumed this to mean, “How to we reach the average German?” But then a German friend told me that there’s this German conspiracy theory that claims that the city of Bielefeld simply does not exist.

The conspiracy theory first surfaced on the Internet in 1994 and claims that Bielefeld is a completely fake city set up by people called SIE (or THEY in English) — who are hiding something else at this location. For example, aliens, who disguised their entire spaceship as a university. (Top points to the alien costume dept!). It might also be the entrance to Atlantis, or a military base. Apparently, however, the whole thing was a kind of joke about conspiracy theories initiated by a German computer scientist called Achim Held.

It’s all very meta, and similar to a recent conspiracy theory called Bird’s Aren’t Real , made up by Generation Z’ers to highlight the absurdism of our post-truth world. For once, it seems, the Germans were way ahead in their digital thinking. Also, German humour is confusing. Which makes working with Germans confusing. Was my German colleague asking how to reach mainstream Germany, how to reach the deep state, or making some kind of joke?

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