One Hit Wonders of the ’80s: 1984 – Nena

“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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2 thoughts on “One Hit Wonders of the ’80s: 1984 – Nena”

  1. Flash back to 3rd year high-school German class…

    Hast du etwas Zeit für mich
    Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
    Von 99 Luftballons
    Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
    Denkst du vielleicht g’rad an mich
    Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
    Von 99 Luftballons
    Und dass so was von so was kommt

    99 Luftballons
    Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
    Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All
    Darum schickte ein General
    ‘ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
    Alarm zu geben, wenn es so wär
    Dabei war’n da am Horizont
    Nur 99 Luftballons

    99 Düsenjäger
    Jeder war ein großer Krieger
    Hielten sich für Captain Kirk
    Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk
    Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
    Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht
    Dabei schoss man am Horizont
    Auf 99 Luftballons

    99 Kriegsminister –
    Streichholz und Benzinkanister –
    Hielten sich für schlaue Leute
    Witterten schon fette Beute
    Riefen Krieg und wollten Macht
    Mann, wer hätte das gedacht
    Dass es einmal soweit kommt
    Wegen 99 Luftballons

    99 Jahre Krieg
    Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
    Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
    Und auch keine Düsenflieger
    Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
    Seh’ die Welt in Trümmern liegen
    Hab’ ‘nen Luftballon gefunden
    Denk’ an dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

    1. Cool! Just for the hell of it, I put the lyrics in Google Translate, and this is what came up:

      Do you have some time for me
      Then I sing a song for you
      Of 99 balloons
      On their way to the horizon
      Do you think maybe g’rad me
      Then I sing a song for you
      Of 99 balloons
      And that something like that comes from

      They changed the song up a bit in the English version.

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