Germans Can Be Funny! – The City That Exists But Not Really Posted by Sten on Jun 4, 2021 in Culture, Language, Travel & Geography
There are many annoying stereotypes associated with the Germans – they’re so efficient and orderly that they have absolutely no sense of humor, fun or relaxation. But Germans can be funny, too! So in this series, we’ll prove, in a very orderly way, that yes, we, people of Germany, are absolutely capable of having a laugh! And perhaps you’ll even get a chuckle out of it, too. So let’s begin today with a classic: The city that doesn’t exist. Or well, so people say. At this point, you might be frowning in confusion, or perhaps you’re busy at schmunzeln (to grin). Because you already know what I’m talking about…
Bielefeld gibt’s nicht!
Yeah. Bielefeld, a city in north-western Germany, exists. But it doesn’t.
Of course, nobody just says this out of thin air – you say this, or a variation, if somebody brings up the place. Like this:
Nächste Woche fahre ich mit meinem Freund nach Bielefeld.
– Bielefeld… Noch nie von gehört. Max, kennst du dieses Bielefeld?
– Bielefeld… Nein, das sagt mir gar nichts. Weißt du, ich glaub, Bielefeld gibt’s gar nicht.
(Next week I’m going to Bielefeld with my friend.
– Bielefeld… Never heard of it. Max, do you know this Bielefeld?
– Bielefeld… No, that doesn’t ring a bell. You know, I think Bielefeld doesn’t even exist.)
Can this be annoying? Yes, of course. But the banality of denying the existence of a city is skurril (quirky) to us Germans. Especially if everybody is in on the joke.
Beyond the joke, however, is also the idea that not having seen this city for yourself, you might as well deny that it is truly there. In that sense, it is a cautious tale about not believing everything you see, simply because some information points to it. The joke can also start like this, which hints more to that idea as well:
Warst du schonmal in Bielefeld? Nein? Kennst du jemanden der schonmal da war? Auch nicht? Wie kannst du dir dann sicher sein, dass es Bielefeld wirklich gibt?
But really? It’s just a joke that some people love and some people hate.
Where did the Bielefeld joke start?
It all started on a Studentenfeier (f, student party) in Kiel. When one of the students mentioned he came from Bielefeld, yet none of the others had ever heard of the city, they said: Bielefeld? Das gibt’s doch gar nicht!
Das gibt’s doch gar nicht has a double meaning here: it means “no way!” or “but that doesn’t actually exist”.
Achim Held, one of the partygoers, heard this, and chose to understand it with that second meaning to have some fun. When a few weeks later, Held drove past the Autobahnausfahrt (f, highway exit) to Bielefeld with a friend, it was blocked due to construction, and the name of the city on the signs was struck out. This is normal procedure when there is construction, to indicate that the destination is unavailable through the indicated signs, but Held saw that as a sign:
Bielefeld scheint es ja wirklich nicht zu geben…
(It appears that Bielefeld really doesn’t exist…)
And so he decided to share his knowledge with the world. And so, in a 1994 internet post, the Bielefeld-Verschwörung (Bielefeld conspiracy) was born! And since then, it has taken a life of its own.
Have you heard this joke before? What do you think about it? Do you know other German jokes? Let me know in the comments below!
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