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Nena's 99 Luftballons German & English Translations

Way back in 1983, a German band released their debut album which contained a single that would eventually take the world by storm. The band Nena took its name from the nickname and stage name of their female lead vocalist. The song is “99 Luftballons” which became a #1 hit in West Germany by March of 1983 and went on to major international chart success the following year also reaching #1 in Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. The German version even reached #2 in the United States in March of 1984, but was held out of the top spot by Van Halen's “Jump”.

Nena The original song was co-written by keyboardist Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (music) and guitarist Carlo Karges (lyrics). An English version titled “99 Red Balloons” was created which was NOT a direct translation of the original with lyrics written by Kevin McAlea though it does capture the same sentiment. The English version reached #1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland and in the UK. It is kind of surprising that the German version was even more popular in the U.S. than the English version, though I do remember them both getting airplay.

The song tells the story of some children's balloons floating in the sky that are mistakenly identified as a threat with the governments immediately putting their troops on red alert and then scrambling fighter jets to intercept the balloons, which ultimately triggers a nuclear war. In the apocalyptic aftermath, the song's narrator stands in the rubble of the city and finds a single remaining balloon. I borrowed the information to create this awesome chart from the InThe80s.com website which allows you to compare the original German lyrics, the direct English translation and the English version lyrics side-by-side

99 Luftballons Translation Chart

Captain Kirk in German is still Captain Kirk and he does appear in both versions. This was in the early-80s, so the Cold War and fear of nuclear war was prominent. NenaThis song was topical in that regard capitalizing on that paranoia/obsession, but also is just a rockin' fun tune for such a serious topic. Peter Schilling's “Major Tom (Coming Home)” was another German song having similar success with an English version at this same time. In fact, Nena's hit knocked Schilling's hit out of the top spot on the German chart in March of 1983. Here is the music video for this version of “99 Luftballons” by Nena

A music video for the English version was put together featuring footage from the original video Nenawith added footage from a nightclub performance. Here is the music video for that “99 Red Balloons” by Nena

Although “99 Luftballons” was Nena's only hit in the English-speaking world, the band continued to enjoy success in Germany and several European countries in the following years. By mid-1985, sales of Nena's records and the attendance numbers on her 1985 tour dates dropped, which led to the eventual band split in mid-1987 and Nena went solo thereafter. To me, the band and its namesake lead singer will always be best remembered for that smash one-hit-wonder from the early 80s. As 99 red balloons go by.


Thanks, as always, for reading! My regular blog site for Kickin’ it Old School has been down for a while now. But you can still please like/follow us on our Facebook page  (http://www.Facebook.com/KickinItOldSchool80s/) and on Twitter @OldSchool80s  (http://www.Twitter.com/OldSchool80s/). We also have begun re-publishing our awesome interviews over at Rediscover the 80s and you can read them here (http://www.rediscoverthe80s.com/search/label/interview/)


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OldSchool80s Posted on Jun 08, 2018 at 10:06 PM

@Superman - Agreed! When I was a kid hearing this song, especially the German version, I had no idea what it was about. Just thought it was a fun song to dance to about balloons. That might be why I have been more fascinated about the song's meaning as I have gotten older.

Superman Posted on Jun 08, 2018 at 06:18 PM

I was first introduced to this song while in college. It always struck me as strange that such an upbeat sounding song had such a sad meaning behind it. It kind of reminds me of one of my favorite singers of the '60s, Bobby Darin, who always sounded so happy as he sang about topics like murder and death.

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