A People’s History, Vol. 7, pages 344 – 348:
War, Recreation, and Response
By Gustav Danzig-Stadt
Translated into English by Stephen Brown
… serve primarily an aesthetic purpose following the scattered Soviet attacks in the late days of the 1986 air raids. While various pacifist groups have proposed scrapping the large reflective disks, commissions on the arts have repeatedly stood in support for their continued presence, claiming they represent an important visual signifier of a difficult period in Prussian history. Annual events have been sponsored at the site of the largest collection of disks along the border of the Polishlands where selected artists from the entire Empire are invited to use the disks as canvas for national artwork.1 In many areas of the Empire, the disks remain permanently covered to avoid inadvertent reflection on the increasing number of skyscrapers and commercial airline flights.
Cartesian Acrobatics: A Truly Prussian Sport
While it’s true that many athletics today considered to be quintessentially Prussian2 owe their creation to various Eastern and Western Europeans annexed by the Greater Prussian Empire following the war, a number of sports have developed in the last century that, while appreciated across the globe, are largely practiced within the Prussian territories. One of the most beloved is the blend of mathematics, acrobatics, and performance known as Cartesian Acrobatics.3
The premise of Cartesian Acrobatics is deceptively simple: troupes of acrobats serve as points on a Cartesian plane delineated from a section of the Great Fence and attempt to act out formulas given to them by a speaker stationed on the ground. At least one neutral participant remains on the ground and serves as a Judge.4 Points are awarded on correctness, style, time, and difficulty of the formula executed.
The sport’s birth is attributed to workers during the 1947 – 1950 construction of the Great Fence that surrounds the continental Greater Prussian Empire. Many of the constructors were young engineering students at nearby universities.5 Due to the massive scale of the production, engineers often had considerable downtime between manual labor tasks. Surviving members of the construction force identified the early days of the sport as a study tool for students balancing time between work and scholarship,a means by which to test the structural integrity of the in-progress structure, and a challenge thrown about between young men. By June 1950, the Great Fence was completed and the sport began to thrive. Unrestricted by work schedules or incomplete portions of the fence, participants began to organize into troupes and set regular meeting times. Another consequence of the construction completion was accessibility to non-engineers: previously, due to obvious and legitimate safety concerns, citizens uninvolved with the fence’s construction were unable to enter work sites to watch competitions. With this restriction lifted, the inherent performativity and visual spectacle of the sport drew in a rapidly increasing number of spectators. With this rise in spectator attendance, a realm of profit opened up to entrepreneurs, who began publicizing events and charging entry fees. A welcome addition during this period was that of regulation safety harnesses for participants, which invited more balanced attention from the Greater Prussian Athletic Association (GPAA).6 By 1956, the sport was recognized by the GPAA on a collegiate and national level. A version of the sport, adapted for reduced scale and ability to construct off-site, was introduced as a sport during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, in which Greater Prussia triumphed over commendable competition from Japan.7
It was during this boom period that participants began to experiment more readily with the performativity of the sport. While mathematics and general athletic competency remained a central pillar, artistic acrobats began to introduce costumes, difficult transitions between points in the formula, and ribbon work. These changes were met with few complaints within the spectator community, though the introduction of ribbon work dramatically changed the sport’s visual identity and alienated some longstanding practitioners. Ribbon work involves the use of colorful ribbons, weighted on both ends, to better indicate lines within formulas.8
Performing formulas with long, heavy ribbons in hand calls for a higher degree of athletic proficiency and led to an influx of previously trained acrobats into the sport. What began as a thinking man’s sport evolved(some would say regressed) into an art form with a rapidly shrinking emphasis on mathematics.9
After a decade-long lull in the 1990s, the sport reemerged in a wave of nostalgic sentiment that arose in the years leading up to the new millennium. Touted as a “national expression that approached art, athletics, and academics in an interdisciplinary style not dissimilar to the cultural melding at the heart of The Greater Prussian Empire,”10 Cartesian Acrobatics saw resurgence among university men eager to accept the challenges of interdisciplinary action placed on them by the millennial international job market. This 21st century model of the sport distinguished much less between perfomative, mathematical, and athletic functions of the acrobatics, choosing instead to treat Cartesian Acrobatics as a distinct pursuit.11
This popularity ran parallel to – and encountered resistance from – one of Greater Prussia’s most intriguing modern movements: Neo-Peasantism.
Neo-Peasantism: Culturally Destructive Nostalgia?
Neo-Peasantism, as a cultural movement, began to arise during the pre-millennial decade as a preemptive response to Y2K scares. While The Greater Prussian Empire has existed in financial stability nearly uninterrupted since its birth in 1947, Y2K conspirators expected financial crises the world over as a result of the perceived inability of computers to calculate “00” as a rollover date stamp from “99.” While the concern ultimately proved overstated (although many argue that it was precisely the preemptive concern that led to experiencing so few problems), hysteria leading up to the year 2000 helped gestate a growing anti-urban sentiment emerging within areas of the Greater Prussian Empire. A number of territories annexed during Prussian expansion in 1947 included thriving, if largely decentralized, agricultural communities.12 Grassroots agriculture became popular in these forcibly industrialized areas following America’s earlier flirtation with the “hippie” movement. Second-hand, overhyped accounts of Y2K mobilized previously …
- In 1999, the Polishlands Committee for the Arts invited a number of English artists to participate on a portion of the disks. Subsequent and numerous complaints of Tracey Emin’s submission, Improve This, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, prompted an immediate return to Greater Prussian exclusivity in artist invitation. ↩
- A perception likely grounded on dominance in the field, especially tennis (Boris Becker; Steffi Graf), handcycle (Heinrich Köberle), and long-distance running (Anni Pede-Erdkamp). ↩
- Cartesian Acrobatics, though Prussian, is known to have an unusually large following in a number of South Asian communities. Troupes within these nations generally compete on smaller scales due to the inaccessibility of structurally sound building materials required for larger planes. While the formulae attempted tend to be less difficult than those practiced in The Greater Prussian Empire, the mortality rate is higher, leading to a banning in at least one country. Unlike the sport’s Prussian base, South Asian Cartesian Acrobatics tends to involve a heavy gambling factor and a heightened emphasis on time (a factor to which Thailand attributed the high number of participant mortality in its 2003 banishment hearing). ↩
- In recreational Cartesian Acrobatics, and during practice formulae, one participant commonly serves as both Judge and Speaker, as impartiality is a considerably reduced factor. This dual role is not wholly unlike the role of the Director seen briefly during the 1980s (see Footnote 9 for more information on the role of the Director and why it was quickly eliminated from formal competition). ↩
- Walram Mahler, one of the early champions of the sport’s legitimacy within the realm of performance, received a BESc from Braun University, my alma mater, in 1951. ↩
- Until this period, safety concerns for participants had largely prevented the GPAA from recognizing the sport as a serious venture. In the sport’s infancy, much of the competition happened low to the ground and participants rarely wore safety gear, but participant risk increased as complex formulae and increased crowds called for higher positions. It’s difficult to determine how many, if any, constructor deaths can be attributed to the sport’s practice. Existing historical records indicate an average number of accident-related deaths for a construction project of this size, but its likely that a number of private contractors working within the government regulations of the project misreported the nature of accidents for insurance purposes. In any case, working at considerable heights with little to no safety equipment was not an uncommon practice for construction projects in the first half of the century. ↩
- Sadly, 1976 was to be the sport’s first and last Olympic appearance. The Montreal games cost a staggering $5 billion dollars and were speculated to be the end of viable Olympic competition. While it was discovered in retrospect that much of this cost may be attributed to illegal intervention by organized crime operating in Montreal, Cartesian Acrobatics were signaled out as an unnecessary cost (especially considering the plane’s lack of use in any other viable athletic events) and eliminated before the controversial and poorly attended 1980 Moscow games. Due in part to the 66-nation-strong boycott of the 1980 event, the GPAA did not contest the Olympic Committee’s ruling on the sport’s elimination, citing also the unlikelihood that competing countries could devote the finances needed to fund highly competitive teams. ↩
- On a purely logistical level, the introduction of ribbons allowed for much greater ease in judging. Prior to widespread ribbon use, Judges designated, at the beginning of each formula, the position of the axes, often with little visual indication. When the sport was in its infancy, debate easily arose over perception of axes and point location. Flirtation was had with lightweight poles held between two participants in the formula, but balance became crucially impaired and concern was expressed that predetermining pole length provided an unfair advantage to participants in deducing formula depiction. In the formative years following widespread organization and preceding ribbon work integration, axes were painted (much to the chagrin of maintenance engineers), though this still left room for needlessly time-consuming nitpicking over exact point location. ↩
- During the 1980s, the sport flirted with introducing official Directors – participants who remained on the ground and performed the mathematical calculations while helping to coordinate troupes that often never came into contact with the formulae themselves. Pressure from the GPAA soon dismissed this practice. ↩
- Prime Minister Einhard Dietricht in a speech to students at the University of Vienna, May 17th, 1998. ↩
- A notable growth from the post-millennial boom is a renewed interest in the engineering roots of the sport. An active initiative to engineer portable planes, as well as affordable and sturdy stationary planes, has begun in the interest of cultivating the sport in the inlands of The Greater Prussian Empire, an area long unable to host a continued participation in the sport. This engineering push has also been proposed as a response to safety concerns by the South Asian communities in which the sport is practiced. ↩
- Prussian agriculture was swiftly melded with manufacturing technology during wartime, leading to a widespread dissolution of sustenance communities. A primary focus of the Greater Prussian Agricultural Guild following the war was the establishment of localized modern farms to prevent the monopolization of agriculture ↩