99 Luftballons

I arrived in Berlin last night and for my first day in Germany and the first day of a new month of 365 Songs, I decided to play Nena’s 1983 hit 99 Luftballons, or as it was released in its English version in 1984, 99 Red Balloons. The background to this song is interesting. Nena’s guitarist Carlo Karges attended a Rolling Stones concert in June 1982. Red balloons were being released into the sky and as he saw them drift towards the horizon they seemed to change shape and look like strange spacecraft. Karges wondered what would happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall into the Soviet Sector.

The original German lyrics tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs and an army general dispatches aircraft to identify the mysterious craft. The pilots find only children’s balloons, but nonetheless decide to put on a show and shoot them down. This display of force worries the nations on the other side of the border and so ensues a conflict of power, and then a 99-year war, all because of a harmless flight of balloons. The song is therefore about the futility of war. The English lyrics aren’t a literal translation, but point to similar circumstances.