Did you hear the one about the German city that doesn't exist?

Justin Huggler
The city of Bielefeld has offered the reward to end a long-running internet joke - DPA

A German city is offering a reward of €1m (£900,000) to anyone who can prove it doesn’t exist.

The city of Bielefeld in north-western Germany launched the bizarre marketing stunt this week to mark the 25th anniversary of one of the country’s longest running jokes.

The Bielefeld conspiracy theory is often held up as proof that the Germans do have a sense of humour after all. The joke, which originated in an early internet meme, is that the city doesn’t exist and that there is a national conspiracy to pretend that it does.

What makes the joke effective is that practically everyone in Germany plays along — including Angela Merkel, who famously said after a visit to the city: “So it does exist. Well, at least I had the impression I was there.”

Over the years the people of Bielefeld have not always taken kindly to being the butt of a national joke. But now it seems the city has decided to join in — and turn the joke on its head.

Even Angela Merkel has played along with the joke Credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS

“We thought the anniversary would be a nice occasion to put the Bielefeld conspiracy to bed,” says an announcement on the city’s website. “That's why we call on all intellectual overachievers in this country to prove to us that Bielefeld really does not exist. The prize for the ultimate proof: €1m.”

The stunt is the work of the city’s marketing company, which says it’s 99.9 per cent sure no one can come up with incontrovertible proof.

But in the unlikely event that some one does manage to prove the city doesn’t exist, it has assured taxpayers they won’t have to foot the bill, which will be paid out of the company’s coffers.

The Bielefeld conspiracy theory originated in a 1994 internet post by Achim Held, a student who wrote: “Bielefeld? That just doesn’t exist.”

The joke hinges on the fact Bielefeld, a city of some 330,000 people, lies far from other urban centres in a relatively lightly populated corner of north-western Germany that is eccentrically named East Westphalia.

Proponents of the conspiracy theory even maintain that Bielefeld railway station is a carefully staged set to fool passengers on trains that pass through.

And they will doubtless claim the offer of a €1m prize is just another sham to pretend the city exists