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The so-called Bielefeld conspiracy has become somewhat of a joke in popular culture.

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Seeking to do away with a long-running conspiracy theory and score some publicity, Bielefeld's mayor said he wanted to give those who believe the joke "one more fair and generous chance" to prove the nearly year-old city is just an illusion. The Bielefeld conspiracy emerged on the internet in , when computer science student Achim Held joked about how the city that is not known for anything in particular didn't exist. The conspiracy then spread on the internet, where it was postulated that a group called "SIE," or "they" in German, created an imaginary illusion of the city.

The city has since used the satire for public relations and even Chancellor Angela Merkel once joked while on a visit to Bielefeld that it does indeed exist.

Every evening, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here. More conspiracy theories? The parody videos produced by the Federal Agency for Civic Education actually aim to get people to pay closer attention to the media they consume. How do conspiracy theories take hold, and why are these "alternative facts" so hard to counter?

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American cultural historian Michael Butter explains that conspiracies also reflect deeper societal insecurities. Conspiracy theories are gaining a lot of traction in enlightened, democratic societies. The phenomenon is finding many adherents in Europe, specifically Hungary, as political scientist Peter Kreko tells DW. It could be a university prank or a case for Mulder and Scully: Students from the University of Kiel have claimed in their own X-file that the German city of Bielefeld doesn't actually exist.

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Expert Michael Butter says that's not quite true. An employee of a weapons factory in the German town of Arnsberg stands accused of smuggling out parts to assemble guns at home in order to sell them.

The yearslong racket saw several weapons end up in criminal hands. The German government plans to boost funding for organizations tackling anti-Semitism and far-right extremism.

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