Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – 99 Luftballoons by Nena

99 Luftballoons by Nena

by Robert Mishou

There are not many hits in the ’80s that were not in the English language, but there are two pretty big hits that were in German. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus hit #1 in March of 1986 (the only song in German to hit this height). A bit earlier, in 1984, a German song hit #2 (it was kept out of the #1 spot by Van Halen’s Jump) entitled 99 Luftballoons by the band Nena. This song was a clear protest against war and our over eagerness to use weapons to solve problems. The English translation of this song did not chart in the Billboard charts at all and it did change the song’s basic situation, so, having lived in Germany for six years and being married to a lovely woman who teaches German in high school, I am going to use lyrics here from the original version, translated by that beautiful teacher.

The conflict in this song centers around the sighting of ninety-nine balloons flying through the air that are mistaken for UFOs. In a panic, the leader of the military sends out fighter jets and raises the alarm. The song continues:

Neunundneunzig Düsenflieger (Ninety-nine jet aircraft)
Jeder war ein großer Krieger (Everyone was a great warrior)
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk (Thought they were Captain Kirk)
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk (That sent big fireworks)
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft (the Neighbours did not understand this)
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht (And felt immediately)
Dabei schoss man am Horizont (They shot at the horizon)
Auf neunundneunzig Luftballons (At ninety nine balloons)

Clearly, the government has overreacted and started a war over a complete misinterpretation of what was seen in the sky. Those government officials thought they were smart and, supposedly in the best interest of the people, aggressively attacked those ninety-nine balloons. The warning comes in the last, somber verse:

Neunundneunzig Luftballons (Ninety nine balloons)
Neunundneunzig jahre Krieg (Ninety-nine years of war)
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger (There was no room for winners)
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr (There is no more war minister)
Und auch keine Düsenflieger (And also no jet airplanes)
Heute zieh ich meine Runden (Today I make my rounds)
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen (See the world in ruins)
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden (Found a balloon)
Denk an dich und lass ihn fliegen (Think of you and let it fly)

Like Russians by Sting coming later, this song expounds on the dangers of nuclear war. In Neunundneunzig Luftballons the destruction comes from a mistake, a misinterpretation – of seeing a danger where there is none and reacting in a fatalistic manner.

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