99 Luftballons

"99 Luftballons"
Single by Nena
from the album Nena and 99 Luftballons
  • February 1983 (West Germany)
  • January 1984 (United Kingdom)
Recorded 1982
Genre Neue Deutsche Welle
Length 3:53
Label Epic
Nena singles chronology
"Nur geträumt"
"99 Luftballons"
Music sample
99 Luftballons

"99 Luftballons" (German: Neunundneunzig Luftballons, "99 balloons") is an anti-war protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English version titled "99 Red Balloons", with lyrics by Kevin McAlea, was also released on the album 99 Luftballons in 1984 after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German original and contains somewhat different lyrics.[1]

Background and writing

While at a June 1982 concert by the Rolling Stones in West Berlin, Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges noticed that balloons were being released. As he watched them move toward the horizon, he noticed them shifting and changing shapes, where they looked like strange spacecraft (referred to in the German lyrics as a "UFO"). He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.[2]


A direct translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, the song became known as "Ninety-Nine Red Balloons" in English.[3][4] The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first line of lyrics: "red" partially replacing a flourish of the singer before "Luft". Neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine", so the last syllable and "luft" are blended in the English translation and become "red".


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 child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. At the end, the singer walks through the devastated ruins and lets loose a balloon, watching it fly away.[5]

The English version retains the spirit of the original narrative, but many of the lyrics are translated poetically rather than directly translated: red helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty early warning system; the balloons are mistaken for military aircraft which results in panic and eventually nuclear war.[5]

English version and other re-recordings

From the outset Nena and other members of the band expressed disapproval for the English version of the song, "99 Red Balloons". 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."[6] In another interview that month the band including Nena herself were quoted as being "not completely satisfied" with the English version since it was "too blatant" for a group not wishing to be seen as a protest band.[7] Despite having given in excess of 500 concerts over a period of more than 30 years, Nena has never sung "99 Red Balloons" live, even at her rare concerts in England, always performing the German version instead.[8]

There have been two re-recordings of the original German version of the song which have been released by Nena: a modern version in 2002 which was included on Nena feat. Nena (2002)[9] and a retro version in 2009,[10] which included some verses in French.

Live recordings of the song are included on all six of Nena's live albums, dating from 1995 to 2016.[11][12]


American and Australian audiences preferred the original German version, which became a very successful non-English song, topping charts in both countries, reaching no. 1 on the Cash Box chart, Kent Music Report, and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind "Jump" by Van Halen.[13] It was certified Gold by the RIAA.

The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons", topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Ireland.

VH1 Classic, an American cable television station, ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EST on 26 March 2006.[14]

In his 2010 book Music: What Happened?, critic and musician Scott Miller declared that the song possesses "one of the best hooks of the eighties" and listed it among his top song picks for 1984. Nonetheless, he cautioned: "It must be admitted that this song suffers from an embarrassingly out-of-place disco funk interlude, and the word kriegsminister."[15]

Chart positions

German version

Weekly charts

Chart (1983–84) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[16] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[17] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[18] 1
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[19] 1
France (IFOP)[20] 2
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 1
Italy (FIMI)[22] 21
Japan (Oricon International Chart)[23] 1
Japan (Oricon Singles Chart)[23] 16
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[24] 1
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[25] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[26] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[27] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[28] 10
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[29] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[30] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[31] 2
US Billboard Dance Club Play[32] 22
US Cash Box[33] 1

Year-end charts

Chart (1983) Rank
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[34] 17
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[35] 27
Germany (Official German Charts)[36] 2
Italy (FIMI)[22] 83
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[37] 14
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[38] 5
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[39] 6
Chart (1984) Rank
Australia (Kent Music Report)[40] 18
France (IFOP)[41] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[42] 28
US Cash Box[43] 31

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
France (SNEP)[44] Gold 666,500[45]
Germany (BVMI)[46] Gold 250,000^
United States (RIAA)[47] Gold 1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

English version

Weekly charts

Chart (1984) Peak
Canada (CHUM)[48] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[49] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[50] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[51] 1
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[52] 3

Year-end charts

Chart (1984) Peak
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[53] 13

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[54] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[55] Gold 500,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

2002 re-release

Chart (2002) Peak
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[56] 17
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 28
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[57] 82
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[58] 77

Cover versions

7 Seconds, an American hardcore punk band, covered the song on their third album Walk Together, Rock Together in 1985.[59] Angry Salad released a version of the song on their 1998 album Bizarre Gardening Accident. Their version also appears on their 1999 self-titled album.

A cover of the song was recorded by the band Goldfinger in 2000 for the album Stomping Ground and gained popularity after featuring in the film EuroTrip.[60] This version of the song is in English, except for the final verse, which is in German. However, the version featured in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is in full English.

South African band Southern Gypsey Queen released a cover of the song in 2011.[61]

Japanese pop singer Yoko Oginome released a cover of the song for the album Dear Pop Singer released on 20 August 2014.[62]

Parody songwriter Tim Cavanagh recorded a parody of the song, "99 Dead Baboons," which debuted on the Dr. Demento radio show shortly after Nena released the original song; it turned into a popular request on the Funny Five.[63]

Australian singer Kylie Minogue covered the song on 18 July 2015, during her Kylie Summer 2015 Tour at Melt! Festival in Germany.[64]

See also


  1. "99 Red Balloons – interview with the writer, Kevin McAlea". Eighty-eightynine. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  2. Rolling Stone, 15 March 1984
  3. "The New English-German Dictionary: "Luftballon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. balloon -- der Luftballon
  4. "The New English-German Dictionary: "Balloon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. balloon -- der Ballon, balloon -- der Luftballon
  5. 1 2 "99 Luftballons, Side by Side Comparison". In The 80s. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  6. "A very good group from Germany". No.1. 17 March 1984. p. 38.
  7. Strike, Andy (10 March 1984). "99 Red Herrings". Record Mirror. p. 14.
  8. "Nena tours and setlists". Nena.de. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  9. "Nena feat. Nena – 20 Jahre by Nena". iTunes DE. Apple Inc. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  10. "99 Luftballons – Single by Nena". iTunes US. Apple Inc. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  11. "99 Luftballons". Nena.de. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  12. "Live at SO36". Nena.de. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  13. "March 3, 1984 – The Hot 100". Billboard. 3 March 1984. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  14. "VH1 Classic to Air the Classic 80s Music Video '99 Luftballons' for an Entire Hour on Sunday, 26 March" (Press release). VH1 Classic. PR Newswire. 22 March 2006. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  15. Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What Happened?. Alameda, CA: 125 Books. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-61538-196-1.
  16. "Australia No. 1 hits -- 1980's". World Charts. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  17. "Austriancharts.at – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  18. "Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  19. MusicSeek.info – UK, Eurochart, Billboard & Cashbox No.1 Hits at the Wayback Machine (archived 14 June 2006). Cash Box magazine.
  20. "Accès direct aux Artistes (N)" (in French). InfoDisc. Select "Nena" from the artist drop-down menu. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  21. 1 2 "Offiziellecharts.de – Nena – 99 Luftballons". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  22. 1 2 "I singoli più venduti del 1983" (in Italian). Hit Parade Italia. Creative Commons. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  23. 1 2 "Japan #1 IMPORT DISKS by Oricon Hot Singles". Hbr3.sakura.ne.jp. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
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  25. "Dutchcharts.nl – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  26. "Charts.org.nz – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  27. "Norwegiancharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". VG-lista. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  28. Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  29. "Swedishcharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  30. "Swisscharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  31. "Nena – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Nena. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  32. "Nena – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  33. CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending MARCH 10, 1984 at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2012). Cash Box magazine.
  34. "Jahreshitparade 1983" (in German). Austriancharts.at. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  35. "Jaaroverzichten 1983" (in Dutch). Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  36. (German) Jahrescharts – 1983 at the Wayback Machine (archived 9 May 2015). Cash Box magazine.
  37. "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1983" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  38. "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1983" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  39. "Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1983" (in German). Hitparade.ch. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  40. "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  41. "TOP – 1984" (in French). Top-france.fr. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  42. "Top 100 Hits for 1984". The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  43. The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1984 at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2012). Cash Box magazine.
  44. "Les Singles / Titres Certifiés "Or"" (in French). InfoDisc. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  45. "Les Meilleures Ventes "Tout Temps" de 45 T. / Singles / Téléchargement" (in French). InfoDisc. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  46. "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Nena; '99 Luftballons')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
  47. "American single certifications – Nena – 99 Luft Ballons". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  48. Chum Chart Archive – Nena at the Wayback Machine (archived 22 February 2006). CHUM.
  49. "Top RPM Singles: Issue 4454." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
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  51. "Archive Chart: 1984-03-03" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  52. "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (N)". Rock.co.za. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  53. "Top 100 Singles of 1984". RPM. Vol. 41 no. 17. 5 January 1985. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  54. "Canadian single certifications – Nena – 99 Red Balloons". Music Canada.
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  56. "[2002&cat=s Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002]"] (in Dutch). Ultratip. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  57. "Dutchcharts.nl – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  58. "[2002&cat=s Swisscharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002]"]. Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  59. Thomas, Fred. "7 Seconds – Walk Together, Rock Together". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  60. Phares, Heather. "Original Soundtrack – Eurotrip". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  61. Southern Gypsey Queen – "99 Red Balloons" at the Wayback Machine (archived 26 November 2011). Rolling Stone South Africa. 15 November 2011.
  62. "Yoko Oginome Official Website > Discography > Album". Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  63. "99 Dead Baboons By: Tim Cavanagh". Mad Music. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  64. Bagwell, Matt (22 July 2015). "Kylie Minogue Covers Nena's '99 Red Balloons' At Germany's Melt Festival (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post.
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