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99 Luftballons

by

Nena



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was one of the songs in the '80s to make a point about the brinkmanship and paranoia/hysteria surrounding the issue of war. The song talks about Nena and the listener buying 99 Balloons in a shop and letting them go, for fun. These balloons show up on the radar as unidentified objects and both sides scramble planes and go to full alert to counteract a perceived nuclear attack, when in fact it is the most childlike of things, a bunch of balloons.
The song, though difficult to understand, is about the dreams of the German people that were lost after World War II. The 99 balloons represent the many dreams that each person had. At the end of the song, she just wants to prove that the German people did have dreams by finding one balloon - she finds one balloon, a dream, and lets it go. (thanks, Josh - Pleasant Plains, IL)
Nena's guitarist, Carlo Karges, got the idea for the song after watching balloons being released at a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin. He wrote the lyrics and Nena's keyboard player Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen wrote the music.
Nena's real name is Gabriela Kerner. She was is a band called The Stripes before forming her own group.
This was released in Germany, where Nena was from. Their record company had no intention of releasing it in America until a disc jockey at radio station KROQ in Los Angeles found a copy and started playing it. They recorded an English version (the original words are in German, and yes, "Captain Kirk" in German is still "Captain Kirk") with the title translated as "99 Red Balloons" and released it in the US, where it was a big hit.
Nena is a true one-hit-wonder outside of Germany, where she didn't even come close to another hit. Before this, however, her single "Nur Getraumt" was a #1 hit in Germany.
Goldfinger did a cover of this that was used on the soundtrack of the 2001 film Not Another Teen Movie. Their version features one verse in German; the lead singer of Goldfinger said he had to take lessons to learn how to say some German words before recording this song. (thanks, Josh - Pleasant Plains, IL)
The English-language version was #1 in the UK for three weeks in March 1984. It was the first of two songs about nuclear war to top the charts in the UK that year; the other was "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. (thanks, Emery - London, England)
"Luftballons" literally translates to "Air Balloons" in German, and means regular party balloons.
Nena
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Comments (47):

Josh, Pleasant Plains, IL the song has nothing to do with ww2, its about the cold war of the 70's/80's, complete with obvious post-war references to "jet fighters" and "Captian Kirk". In fact, Germany has a bright future to dream of. The country has rebuilt to a beautiful, amazing place with the largest economy in Europe.
- Jerry, los angeles, CA
On February 26th 1984, "99 Luftballons" by Nena peaked at #2 (for 1 week) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on December 4th, 1983 at position #74 and spent 20 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 6 of those 20 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
It reached #1 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland...
The week that it was at #2 on the Top 100, the #1 record was "Jump" by Van Halen...
Nena, born Gabriele Susanne Kerner, will celebrate her 54th birthday in less than a month on March 24th (2014).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
There was a spoof called '99 Dead Baboons.'
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
First of all how could 99 Luftballoons be a sign to Nazis when the song was let out in the 80's and WWII ended in 1945? And second yes the song may be in German, but truly many Germans travled to US after WWII. But the one war, and the same war as today, that started in the 1980's was and still is the Iraq war. Just because it's in German doesn't mean that it involves Nazis. Nena was anti-war so why in gods name would she send a ssignle. Or even do anything like that.
- Brittany, land of confusion, OH
Apparently, 99 luft Balloons was a secret message to Nazis. The balloons were supposed to signal that it was okay to send Hitler to South America. But Hitler killed himself in 1945, and the song wasnt written until the late 70s, which is to say that a secret message to Nazi officials hidden within then lyrics is a wild, impossible conspiracy theory. But on the whole: great song. :)XD
- tony, linden, NC
Makes sense, I figured it was because he was a hero. But I see how the whole UFO thing connects back to Captain Kirk.
- Emily, Around Chicago, IL
As a soldier in the Army you get to travele all over the world in when i got sent to Germany I was whatever about till i got here....Thats when i found this song......its the best song i have heard in a very long time.When i go on leave i put my car roof down and play this song as lound as i can driveing to Berlin. i wish they could make more songs like this.....
P.F.C brito U.S. Army
- carlos, frankfurt, Germany
The original German lyrics translate as: "Do you have some time for me?/Then I will sing a song for you/Of 99 balloons/On their way to the horizon/Are you perhaps thinking of me?/Then I will sing a song for you/Of 99 balloons/And that something can come from such a thing./99 balloons/On their way to the horizon/Thought they were UFO's from space/So a general sent/A flying squad out there/To raise alarm if it was true/Yet there on the horizon were/Only 99 balloons./99 jet airplanes/Each one was a great warrior/Thought that they were Captain Kirk/There were great fireworks/The neighbors didn't understand/And immediately felt provoked/Yet there they shot on the horizon/At 99 balloons./99 war ministers/Matches and petrol cans/Thought that they were clever people/Already caught wind of great spoils/Shouted "war!" and wanted power/Man, who would've ever thought/That one day it would come to this/Because of 99 balloons./99 years of war/Leave no place for victors/There are no war ministers anymore/And no jet airplanes either/Today I'm doing my rounds/Seeing the world laying in ruins/Found a balloon/Think of you/And let it fly..." Auf wiedersehen!
- Caitlin, Colmesneil, TX
"Weird Al" Yankovic included this song on "Hooked On Polkas" from his Dare To Be Stupid album
- Craig, Rockhampton, Australia
The reference to Captain Kirk is a little clearer in the German version. People mistake the balloons for UFO's from outer space, and they are chasing after them in jet planes, as if they are Captain Kirk.
- Alan, Northridge, CA
Because it says "Everyone's a super hero. Everyone's a Captain Kirk." Because Captain Kirk was a hero. It's just making a reference.
- Alex, Atlanta, GA
I absolutely ♥ this song!!! I only heard it a few times, then my mom bought a CD called "Women of the 80's" and I was addicted. I've heard the song in German one time in a Language Arts class, and it was better, but the English version is good too. (Does anyone know how "Captain Kirk" got weaseled into the lyrics?)
- Emily, Around Chicago, IL
This song was recorded as there was talk of the cold war ending. There was still a lot of hysteria and hype regarding nuclear weapons. It sounds hip in German, but sounds naff in English, even though the English lyrics are not a literal or direct translation.
- Glenn, Auckland, New Zealand
This song is also featured in the GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY game. The game's story is set in a Miami-like city in the year 1986.
- Kartik, Ahmedabad, India
Vielleicht die beste Musik aller Zeiten.

Notice the air raid siren at the end of the song (English version anyways)
- Billy, Calgary, Canada
There are some things that just do not translate - nor can they ever be understood by Americans as they have no idea what it is like to think and act GLOBALLY...
- Lola, Grass Valley, CA
Anyone who speaks German would see that the English version is quite different from the German/original version. No where in the German version does it mention a toy store - or buying balloons...it is a song about the hysteria caused by 99 balloons being mistaken for UFOs of some sort of enemy invasion. Back in 1984, many Eurpoean artists were inspired by WWI and II. With the fall of the Wall within a few years, emotions ran high and since the wars were fought primarily on their soil, they naturally feel differently about them. This is an insightful poem/song about how something so simple - like a child's balloon - would cause War Ministers to sit up and take notice.
- Lola, Grass Valley, CA
The song "99 Luftballons" is magnificent in both its thematic scope and musical symmetry. It starts one way, moves into completely different zones and then finishes with yet another brilliant, triumphant stroke. Delivered on the album in both the original German and an English take, "99 Red Balloons," this classic, unique anti-war rock ballad is politically provocative, rapturously euphoric, enigmatic and potentially tragically prophetic.

The music by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, the entire orchestration...it just "takes you there," with the driving bass and also the whimsical treble. All the members of the band seem to complement each other, to understand each other, and play their parts to pop-music perfection. Nena Kerner's voice is sweet and sexy but also feisty and sardonic, taunting.

It is fantastic, surreal, mysterious and yet somehow frighteningly real and poignant at the same time. The metaphors, the layers of the song, are so powerful. It appeals to the child in me, the adult in me, it expresses anger, fear and fantasy, the whole works. It suggests beginnings and endings...

If you think about what balloons symbolize, the concept here is nothing short of ingenious. Balloons represent hope, dreams, happiness, freedom. There are often balloons at a "grand opening" to celebrate something new, great expectations.

The writer of the song, the now-deceased Nena band member Carlo Karges, was at a Rolling Stones concert in Berlin back in the '80s when the Berlin Wall was still up. At the end of the concert, they released all these balloons into the sky, and he wondered what would happen if the balloons floated over the Wall and were mistaken for something else, like UFO's. It really could be catastrophic.

What follows is a story about "little misunderstandings" that bring about a big battle over something small: nothing really but a bunch of balloons. Everybody from a general to jet plane riders to war ministers, like Keystone cops, go hunting them down in a fatal confrontation.

The lyrics to the original Teutonic version are closer-to-the-bone, more realistic. If you think of this Armageddon-level scuffle taking place in a city divided, it is more human-scaled. The English take--while still communicating the plot and point of the original--loses the appropriate vantage point, and therefore some of the rich flavor and subtext.

The "letting go" of the balloon at the song's finale, the end of the world perhaps, is also a rich metaphor for forgiveness and giving peace and freedom a chance.
- Alan, Northridge, CA
First of all, Mark, you'r an idiot. This is one of the greatest one-hit-wonders of all time and the keyboard riff is awsome! She didnt need any subtlety in this song cause its about how paranoid the world is. Just shut up Mark, no one cares about your stupid comments.
- Max, Laconia, NH
chris:
the second from last verse translates to:
99 ministers of war, matches and gas cans
Everyone wanted to be brave people
Everyone could sense the booty (Beute is an old german word but in the context means the financial gain of the war)
Declare/call war and [all] wanted power
who would have thought that it would have come this far
becuase of 99 balloons
- Rachel, okc, OK
I also question whether or not this song was ever actually covered by Blondie...
- Steve, Birmingham, AL
This song is on a list of a very few (thankfully) truly horrible songs that many, many people love, for some reason or the other. The song is an embarrassment that is poorly written, recorded, and performed. No subtlety in these incredibly amateur lyrics. And that cheesy synthesizer riff! Thank God this fraulein was a one-hit wunder.
- Mark, Mayberry, NC
Nena's version i heard first, on the simpsons. i was so impressed that i tried to find out who samg it and then got bored and quit. about a year later i heard it on the radio and soon found out Nena sang it. I declined to buy the cd. and instead got the goldfinger version. its a song you can kick some ass to!
- Joe, Bellingham, WA
At the end of the english version done by Goldfinger you can hear someone say "Goodnight children, everywhere" if you turn it up really loud. That kept me up three nights. It scared the living crap outta me.
- Michael, Tucson, AZ
Well, you know, anytime ANYONE records a parody of a popular song, people jump to conclusions and say it's Weird Al when it's often actually done by Bob Rivers or some "zany morning DJ" like that.
- Tony, Topeka, KS
Blondie also did a cover of this. Then again, what did Blondie NOT do a cover of? :-)
- Sina, Wounded Knee, SD
When sung by Goldfinger, this song kicks a$$.
- Jessica, S, WA
Guster alludes to this song in their song "Amsterdam" with the line "you were a super high tech jet fighter", which is also in this song.
- Gautam, Rockville, MD
99 Dead Baboons was written and sung by Tim Cavanagh.
- Steven, Sunnyvale, CA
Also used in Gilmore Girls-Loreli is listening to it on her tape player before she goes into labor.
- Lori, Chicago, IL
Anyone remember Weird Al Yankovic's parody of this song? 99 Dead Baboons
- Elisabeth, Branford, CT
On VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders, this appears at #10 in the list. William Shatner says that this song happens to mention his name --- in German!
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
99 red balloons?? was released in 1983 by Nena in German yet one year later the song was re-written in English. 99 Red Balloons is a song from the 1980?s that displays the continual paranoia caused by political tension. At that period, the world was about 40 years into the Cold War between democratic capitalism, led by the United States and the totalitarian communists, led by the Soviet Union. The first stanza of the song begins with a trip to a toy store to buy 99 red balloons. The little girl sets the balloons free at the break of dawn until she has none left. Balloons are set free all the time, which make her actions seem normal, but her actions did have unexpected consequences. The last half of the first stanza completely reverses the casual mood established by the beginning lines. Back at a military base, ?bugs in the software? accidentally recognize the large number of red balloons as some form of missile barrage. This letting go of 99 red balloons starts world war 3. This song is very similar to the poem ?Icarus Allsorts? by Roger McGough, which also explores a mistake and it?s consequences during the Cold War where there is so much political tension around. The song uses the poetic techniques rhyme and rhythm. The rhyme just allows the song to be targeted at a larger audience because it appeals to a large audience. The rhythm of the song reflects what is happening in the duration of the song. Before the war has broke out and at the end of the song which is at the after math of the war the rhythm is slowed down. Conversely during the war the rhythm is very fast. The repetition of the phrase ?99 red balloons go by? at the end of each stanza continue to remind the audience that at this time of political tension how small of a mistake could cause such devastation. This song relates to the present, as there is similar tension in the world today with such terrorist attacks like September 11, the Bali bombings and the recent London terror attacks. The main reason for the tension is religious and political problems and western civilisation?s problem to accept difference. In the cold war it was the western world not being able to accept a totalitarian, communist government and this still continues today with North Korea. But also our culture based on Christianity does not accept the Muslim culture of Arabic countries.
- sean, perth, Australia
This was also in The Simpsons, the episode where Bart goes to Fat Camp and all the Germans move in and make Homer sing the song (in German).

If anyone missed the link for the web page w/ the translation before, it's [url]http://www.inthe80s.com/redger3.shtml[/url]
- katie, somewhere, NJ
they played this song in the first episode of "My Name Is Earl" which is one damn good show....yeah...just lettin' y'all know.
- Anastasia, anaheim, CA
This is a great song, one of my favorites, especially the Goldfinger version. There have been over 50 groups that have sang a version of this song, the most famous being Goldfinger and Nena.

This song is about World War II. Germany was defeated ruthlessly during the war. The country was devistated. "99 dreams I have had/in every one a red ballon" means each balloon represents a dream. "It's all over and I'm standing pretty/in the dust that was a city" means Germany was completely torn up after the war. "If i could find a souvier/just to prove the world was here/and here it is a red balloon/i think of you and let it go" means this person is looking for something to show that Germany once lived...because it looks like a ghost town now. He/She finds it and lets it go because it's useless...Germany was destroyed.
- Josh, Pleasant Plains, IL
Goldfinger covered this song for the movie 'Eurotrip'.
- Bill, Stockton, CA
beeing a young californian kid from the US, you prolly dont think i have a taste in music that you would like, which i prolly dont...but...i love this song, something about it just...mezmorized me as soon as i first heard it...i literally stopped walking with my friends (was playing in a store we passed by)...and had to stay and listen to it....which you prolly dont care, unless your realy bored enough to read all these comments...lol
- Spike, San Bernardino, CA
German isn't as especially sexy language, but I always get a little sexual shiver when Nena sings "ange-MACHT!" :-)

A literal translation of the last verse in the German version would be:

A 99-year war leaves no place for victory
There are no more war ministers
And no more jet fighter
Today, I found myself looking around
At the world laying in ashes
I found a little toy balloon
I thought of you and let it fly.....
- Robert, Puyallup, WA
My Germanteacher said once that we should hear Nena. All the boys in My class said:"Argh" because they thought that 99 Luftballons was too old. But then, when they first heard the song they loved and so did all the girls. The song really should be published at danish because it's so good. The song tells a lot about the war.

Let's take at danish as well:

Min tyskl�rer sagde en dag at vi skulle h�re Nena. Alle drengene i min klasse sagde:"Argh" fordi de syntes at "99 Luftballons" var for gammel. Men da de så f�rst h�rte sangen elskede de den og det gjorde pigerne også.
Sangen burde virkelig blive udgivet på dansk fordi den er så god. Den fort�ller meget om krigen.
- Katrine, Gjerlev, Denmark
I want rammstein to cover this song
- Danny, Sydney, Australia
There is 2 deferent songs one in English and one in German and they both don't say the same things, gust look at this site, www.inthe80s.com/redger3.shtml
- Joe, Otawa, Canada
Streichholz und benzinkanister means match (which you use to light a cigarette f.i.) and petrol can
- Martijn, Helmond, Netherlands
: 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 Weg?n 99 Luftballons

99 war ministers, matches and petrol, tought they were clever, they wanted good, fat, loots. War and they wanted might, but who has tought, that it would come this far just because of 99 balloons.

This was Nena's first and last number 1 song in Belgium. Nena FT. Kim Wilde, never made it this far. I love the song, but I do consider it a shame that it's been raped in mostly every single way. The punk/rock version is in my eyes only another raped version, also many do think it's just about balloons, and use it actually wrong as soundtracks... but listen and translate the German tekst to it's exact words... It still has deeper meaning than the English version. Nena's way of showing the world war is wrong is through that song, She brings it in a childlike manner. Because she conciders herself still a child. Altough she's now past 40 and has like 4 growing kids. Of all the four versions that have been brought out of this song the original one is the best.
- Eef, Zoutleeuw, Belgium
This is my favorite song ever made and i know alot about it. The song was origanaly done by a band called nena named after the lead singers fake name. The song was writen by nena about her experience in the german war. she hated it and expressed it in strong words. It was not acsepted by the US because of this they found that it was not understanderble. Nena later translated german to english and changed most of the strong words and meanings to less important meanings to make other people understand. she kept the 3rd verse in english to show her tribute to germany and not losing all the meaning. This song has been redone a large 72!!!!!! times! but this is not put on a cd just for amusment for bands. Punk-rock band goldfinger found this song not understanding it much they disided to do a remake. they got germnan teachers to help them with the pronouncaicon. In the film clip to this song by nena she finds herself walking through army training ground with a red balloon and in the end she lets it go. The song has been put in many different movies, it makes a great soundtrack song. it has been put on such movies as not another teen movie in the football scene and the famous mary-kate and ashley movie "our lips are sealed" in the scene in lunna park. The ongs title Luft meaning air in german and balloon meaning 99airballoons. though in english it was changed to red to show the dramtic side of the song. I LOVE THIS SONG!
- Emma,NT,Australia allshesgot@hotmail.com
- Emma, NT, Australia
The second but last verse, when translated into English makes no sense to me...can someone improve upon my translation?

German:

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
Weg?n 99 Luftballons

English:

99 War ministers
Matches and petrol
Thought they were clever people
Already smelt the greasy loot
Shouted: War, and wanted power
Man, who would've thought that it would've come to this
Because of 99 balloons?
- Chris, Penpedairheol, Wales
Also used in a Scrubs episode when JD has to deal with a patient who is German and he wonders how they could communicate, a dream sequence ensues with JD and the patient dancing to the song in a room full of Red Balloons. At the end of the episode he asks the widow (who he's slept with) of a man (who only recently died) he treated, to go out with him. Unfortunately he asks her without realising that her dinner guests are her dead husband's parents and in the awkwardness JD imagines himself with the parents and the woman in the restaurant dancing to the song with red balloons flying around.

The Episode is: My Interpretation
- Mark, Guildford, England
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