One Hit Wonder: Nena (1983)

99 Luftballons
Single: Nena
Album: Nena and 99 Luftballons
Language: German
English title: 99 Red Balloons
Released: March 1983 (West Germany)
Released: 1984 (United Kingdom)
Genre: New wave

Nena's 1983 hit song "99 Luftballons" is from their self-titled album. They released an English-language version titled "99 Red Balloons" in 1984. In America, the English translation didn't chart. The original German language recording is Nena's only US hit. VH1 ranks the hit number 10 of the 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders.

99 Luftballons (1983)

Nena's hit "99 Luftballons" is about living on the verge of national conflict. When it was written, the band's home country of Germany was divided between East and West Berlin.  

Nena 1983
Nena 1983

According to a June 2006 story in Rolling Stone magazine, the song's inspiration came from Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges in 1982. Balloons were released at a Rolling Stones concert he attended in West Berlin and drifted over the stadium. Karges thought about them floating over the Berlin Wall into East Germany.

The German lyrics tell a story about 99 balloons mistaken for UFOs. Military pilots sent to investigate take the opportunity to put on a big show of firepower. The war ministers of neighboring nations use the conflict to grab power. A cataclysmic war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons. 

The lyrics declare,  "99 Jahre Krieg ließen keinen Platz für Sieger," which means "99 years of war left no room for victors."

99 Red Balloons (1984)
"We made a mistake there. 
I think the song loses something."
Co-writer Uwe Fahrenkrog Petersen
The German title translates as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons," but the English song is "Ninety-Nine Red Balloons" because the syllables fall correctly. The English-language version retains the spirit of the original but doesn't directly translate the original German. Nena and other members of the band disapproved. In March 1984, the band's keyboardist and song co-writer Uwe Fahrenkrog Petersen said, "We made a mistake there. I think the song loses something in translation and even sounds silly."



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