“99 Luftballons” by Nena
OK, how many of us used to try to sing this song in German, when we didn’t even speak German? We would sing incoherently, until we got to the part where we would sing loudly: 99 LUFTBALLONS!! Thankfully, Nena would release the song in English, so we would have an idea of what the sog was saying. But, it was still the German version that was the big hit in the U.S., peaking all the way at #2 on March 3, 1984.
Nena was the name of the band, as well as the lead singer. The band was formed in 1981, and had some success in Europe. When “99 Luftballons” was released, the band became weel known all over the world.
The song came into existence when Nena’s guitarist Carlo Karges went to a June 1982 concert by the Rolling Stones in West Berlin and noticed that balloons were being released. As he watched them move toward the horizon, he noticed them shifting and changing shapes, where they looked like strange spacecraft (referred to in the German lyrics as a “UFO”). He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.
Both the English and German versions tell how faulty East German radar equipment registers 99 balloons as incoming weapons. They immediately put their troops on red alert and scramble fighter jets to intercept which ultimately triggers a nuclear war between East and West. In the apocalyptic aftermath, the song’s narrator stands in the rubble of the city and finds a single remaining balloon. Thinking of someone, he or she then lets the balloon go.
Although “99 Luftballons” was Nena’s only hit in the English-speaking world, the band continued to enjoy success in several European countries in the following years. The band split in 1987, and Nena went solo.
Nena has been very active recording albums. The songs have not made it back across to the U.S. at all. But, the one time Nena made it big over here, they made a huge impact. Here are both versions of the song:
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