Nena: “99 Luftballoons” (1983)

Written and performed by West German new wave band Nena, 99 Luftballoons (“99 Balloons”) reached the top 10 in several countries in 1983. It was written by a member of the band after watching balloons being released in West Berlin, only for them to float over the Berlin Wall.

The song was released in both German and English. Each set of lyrics was radically different, though both warned of the dangers of Cold War paranoia and military preparedness.

In the English version, for example, balloons released into the air trigger military warning systems, leading to a devastating response.

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Till one by one, they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message, ‘Something’s out there’
Floating in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it’s red alert
There’s something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky as 99 red balloons go by

99 decision street
99 ministers meet
To worry, worry, super flurry
Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we’ve waited for
This is it boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As 99 red balloons go by

99 knights of the air
Ride super high tech jet fighters
Everyone’s a super hero
Everyone’s a Captain Kirk
With orders to identify
To clarify, and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 dreams I have had
In every one a red balloon
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
In this dust that was a city
If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you, and let it go

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