Do you have some time for me? Then I’ll sing a song for you about ninety-nine balloons on their way to the horizon” – Most people who grew up in the 1980s can certainly sing along to the beginning of Nena’s most famous song “99 Luftballons”. The song, which first appeared in the German single charts on January 24, 1983 – 40 years ago – was also successful worldwide and even stormed the charts in the USA.
The song about the balloons that floated to the horizon and which a general mistook for UFOs from space and therefore sent a squadron to follow them, is one of the best-known hits of the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW) and is still one of the best-known German songs in the English-speaking world . The song also has a special meaning for Nena. “I love this song. As long as I’m on stage, there will be no Nena concert without the balloons,” Nena told the German Press Agency.
“We have been traveling around the world together for 40 years and have experienced a lot together.” She had only stumbled over the line “See the world in ruins” before. “It was just two little words it took. Since then I’ve been singing, “I haven’t seen the world fall to pieces yet!” – It’s in our hands. I believe in us humans and trust that we all know deep in our hearts: We belong together.”
When the song was released in 1983 after Nena’s first hit “Nur dreamed” (1982), it was the last phase of the Cold War. After the NATO double-track decision, the stationing of medium-range nuclear missiles began in Germany in 1983. The people fought back against this threat and organized themselves in the peace movement, there were large demonstrations against the planned rearmament. “The “99 balloons” just fit the time. On the one hand, the theme of peace was present in the song – but without really formulating protest or calling for political resistance. On the other hand, the Neue Deutsche Welle was at its peak, it even conquered the ZDF hit parade,” says Prof. Michael Fischer, Director of the Center for Popular Culture and Music at the University of Freiburg.
The idea for the lyrics came to band guitarist Carlo Karges in 1982 at a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin, when Mick Jagger released balloons at the end of the show, which the wind carried towards the Wall. “Back then, with this powerful image, Carlo asked himself what could happen if someone misunderstood it,” Nena recalls. He wrote the text that same night and showed it to Nena in the rehearsal room the next day. “As soon as I read the first lines, a shiver ran down my spine and I immediately wanted to sing it. From then on it was unstoppable,” says the singer. At the time, the record company said the song had “no chorus” and was “not commercial enough”.
The success of “99 Luftballons” in the USA was similarly magical: when Christiane Felscherinow was in Los Angeles to promote the film “Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo”, she was a guest on the show by well-known radio host Rodney Bingenheimer. When the moderator asked her about the trends in Germany, she handed him a cassette with “99 balloons”. Bingenheimer liked the song so much that he put it on more often. Other radio stations and the music station MTV followed. The song soon became a huge hit not only in the US, but also in Japan, Mexico, Canada and Australia. In 1984, the English-language version (“99 Red Balloons”) made it to number 1 in the UK charts.
Nena Song is Not Only Part of The History
“The Nena song is not only part of the history of the Neue Deutsche Welle, but also of German political and cultural history in general. The fact that the song was often understood less politically, but was danced to, laughed at and sung along to, does not diminish its historical significance,” says Fischer. Similar to “A Little Peace”, with which pop singer Nicole won the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson in 1982, the song addresses people’s desire for peace. “And given today’s wars, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it should be all too clear that peace, alongside justice, is the central value of humanity,” says the music expert.
And for Nena herself, the song has not lost a moment of its truthfulness and topicality. “In every country where we played concerts, the balloons were understood as a message of peace. And peace is and will always be relevant to us as a human family on this earth.”
This article is originally published on suedtirolnews.it