99 Luftballons

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99 Luftballons

written and performed by Nena

Hast du etwas Zeit für mich?
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Denkst du vielleicht grad an mich?
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Und, dass sowas von sowas kommt

99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General
‘ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn’s so wär
Dabei war’n dort am Horizont
Nur 99 Luftballons

99 Düsenflieger
Jeder war ein großer Krieger
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk
Es gab ein großes Feuerwerk
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht
Dabei schoss man am Horizont
Auf 99 Luftballons

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 so weit kommt
Wegen 99 Luftballons

[Bridge]
Wegen 99 Luftballons
99 Luftballons

[Outro]
99 Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger
Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh’ die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab’ ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

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First… who is Nena? Nena was a German Neue Deutsche Welle band. In 1983 and 1984, their German-language song “99 Luftballons” (and its English version, “99 Red Balloons”) reached number one in the singles charts of countries around the world.

There is an English language version of this song as well but I have always preferred it in German. What do the lyrics mean in German? From Wiki:

The lyrics of the original German version tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but balloons, the pilots put on a large show of fire power. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side encourage conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a cataclysmic war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons and causes devastation on all sides without a victor, as indicated in the denouement of the song: “99 Jahre Krieg ließen keinen Platz für Sieger,” which means “99 years of war have left no place for winners.” The anti-war song finishes with the singer walking through the devastated ruins of the world and finding a single balloon. The description of what happens in the final line of the piece is the same in German and English: “Denk’ an dich und lass’ ihn fliegen,” or “I think of you and let it go.”

Ah, you thought this was a fun, happy, foot-tapping German song?

This is much darker than it’s upbeat pop sensibilities might lead one to believe without an understanding of German. For those interested, here is a translation of the song lyrics (as opposed to the English version of the song which is not a direct translation and thus has a different message.)

If you have some time for me
Then I will sing a song for you
About ninety-nine balloons
On their way to the horizon

If you maybe think just of me
Then I will sing a song for you
About ninety-nine balloons
And that such a thing comes from such a thing

Ninety-nine balloons
On their way to the horizon
One could take them for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent

A flying squadron after them
To give the alarm if it was so
There were present on the horizon
Only ninety-nine balloons

Ninety-nine jet fighters
Each was a great warrior
They regarded themselves as Captain Kirk
There was a great display of fireworks

The neighbors didn’t understand
And soon felt offended
And in the process they shot at the horizon
At ninety-nine balloons

Ninety-nine ministers of war
Matches and petrol cans
They regarded themselves as clever people
Already on the scent of fat quarry

They shouted “War” and wanted power
Man, who would have thought
That someday it would come as far as this
Because of ninety-nine balloons

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no place for victors
There are no longer any ministers of war
And also no jet fighters

Today I’m making my rounds
I see the world lying in ruins
I have found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly

I think the moral of this story is that one should consider how actions – especially aggressive actions – might be interpreted by others (and responded to by others) before taking them. In the song, unthinking escalation led to the end of the world. There’s something very modern about this song’s dance pop style mixed with grim end of days warning. I imagine if we have an end of the world event any time soon, it will be met with foolish short-sighted politicians, funny internet memes, and partying… right up until the music stops.

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