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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 after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German and contains somewhat different lyrics.

 


    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.

    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.



    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.