99 Luftballons

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"99 Luftballons" /
"99 Red Balloons"
Single by Nena
from the album Nena and 99 Luftballons
Released 1983 (West Germany)
1984 (United Kingdom)
Format CD single
Recorded 1982
Genre Neue Deutsche Welle
Length 3:53
Label CBS Schallplatten
Writer(s) Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (music)
Carlo Karges (German lyrics)
Kevin McAlea (English lyrics)
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Nena singles chronology
"Nur geträumt"
"99 Luftballons"
Music sample

"99 Luftballons" (German Neunundneunzig Luftballons, "99 balloons") is an anti-nuclear protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English version titled "99 Red Balloons" written 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 a somewhat different set of lyrics.[1]

Background and writing[edit]

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]


The translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, "Ninety-Nine Balloons" is more correct.[3][4] A Luftballon is a colourful toy balloon, rather than a balloon for transport or research. The name is derived from Luft, German for "air", but the meaning of Luft as a noun does not qualify the type of balloon; however, as an adjective meaning "aerial" resulting in an understanding of "airborne balloons." The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first lines of lyrics, with "red" replacing "Luft"; the only difference is that neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine".


A bag's worth of helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty East German Early Warning System; mistaken for an attack by NATO, it results in panic and eventually nuclear war.

"99 Red Balloons", the English version, adds a significant and poignant detail — that the song's narrator (along with the presumed listener) released the fateful balloons.[5][6]

Re-recordings and cover versions[edit]

There have been two re-recordings of the song released by Nena: a modern version in 2002 which was included on Nena feat. Nena (2002)[7] and a retro-sounding one in 2009,[8] the latter of which includes some verses recorded in French.

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.[9]

South African band Southern Gypsey Queen released a cover of the song in 2011.[10]


The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons", was the version that became popular outside of Germany and neighboring countries. The song hit #1 in Cash Box and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, quickly selling over a million US singles. It was certified Gold by the RIAA. It also topped the charts in the UK, Canada, and Ireland.

American and Australian audiences preferred the original German version, which became one of the most successful non-English songs in US history[citation needed] when it topped the Cash Box Top 100 chart and reached #2 on Billboard, behind "Jump" by Van Halen.[11]

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 Nena's "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00pm EST on 26 March 2006.[12]

Chart position[edit]

German version[edit]

Chart (1983-1984) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[13] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[14] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[15] 1
France (SNEP)[16] 2
Germany (Media Control Charts)[17] 1
Italy (Musica e Dischi)[18] 21
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[19] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[20] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[21] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[22] 10
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[23] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[24] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[25] 2
US Dance Club Play[26] 22

English version[edit]

Chart (1984) Peak
Canada (RPM)[27] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[28] 1
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[29] 1
South African Chart[30] 3

2002 re-release[edit]

Chart (2002) Peak
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[31] 17
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[32] 82
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[24] 77

In popular culture[edit]

The track was used in soundtracks for the movies Grosse Pointe Blank, Boogie Nights, The Wedding Singer, My Best Friend's Girl, Not Another Teen Movie, Watchmen, Eurotrip, Camille Rewinds, and "Mr. Nobody". It also appeared in the video games Gran Turismo 3, Donkey Konga, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Just Dance 2014.

See also[edit]

  • Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet early-warning system operator who in 1983 disregarded a false nuclear attack alarm (from shining clouds, rather than balloons) and may have prevented a nuclear war.
  • List of anti-war songs


  1. ^ Interview with the writer, Kevin McAlea, eightyeightynine.com.
  2. ^ Rolling Stone, 15 March 1984
  3. ^ "The New English-German Dictionary: "Luftballon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. "balloon -- der Luftballon" [dead link]
  4. ^ "The New English-German Dictionary: "Balloon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. "balloon -- der Ballon, balloon -- der Luftballon" [dead link]
  5. ^ "Nena: '99 Luftballons' Song Lyrics - English". Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "'99 Red Balloons' Song Lyrics". Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "Nena feat. Nena - 20 Jahre by Nena". iTunes DE Apple. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  8. ^ ""99 Luftballons" by Nena". iTunes US Apple. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Allmusic". 
  10. ^ "Southern Gypsey Queen - "99 Red Balloons" - Rolling Stone South Africa". Rollingstone.co.za. 2011-11-15. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ VH1 Classic to Air the Classic 80s Music Video '99 Luftballons' for an Entire Hour on Sunday, 26 March. VH1 Classic (published 22 March 2006). 2006. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "Australian-charts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  14. ^ "Nena – 99 Luftballons – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  15. ^ "Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  16. ^ "Lescharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in French). Les classement single.
  17. ^ "Die ganze Musik im Internet: Charts, News, Neuerscheinungen, Tickets, Genres, Genresuche, Genrelexikon, Künstler-Suche, Musik-Suche, Track-Suche, Ticket-Suche – musicline.de" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  18. ^ Italian peak positions
  19. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Nena search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  20. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Top 40 Singles.
  21. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". VG-lista.
  22. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  23. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Singles Top 60.
  24. ^ a b "Nena – 99 Luftballons – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  25. ^ "Nena Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for Nena.
  26. ^ "Nena awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 4 June 2013. 
  27. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 39, No. 26, March 03 1984". RPM. Retrieved 6 July 2011. 
  28. ^ "Irish Singles Chart – Search for song". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 6 July 2011. 
  29. ^ "99 Red Balloons". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  30. ^ John Samson. "99 red balloons in South African Chart". Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  31. ^ "Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002"] (in Dutch). Ultratip.
  32. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002"] (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
Preceded by
"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
UK number one single
3 March 1984 – 17 March 1984
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
7 April 1984 – 7 May 1984
Succeeded by
"Eat It" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Preceded by
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Irish Singles Chart number-one single
3 March 1984 – 24 March 1984
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Red Red Wine" by UB40
Canadian RPM Singles Chart number one single
3 March 1984 – 10 March 1984
Succeeded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Preceded by
"Radio Ga Ga" by Queen
Swedish Singles Chart number-one single
3 April 1984 – 8 May 1984
Succeeded by
"Street Dance" by Break Machine
Preceded by
"Poi E" by Patea Maori Club
New Zealand RIANZ singles chart number-one single
18 April 1984
Succeeded by
"Reggae Nights" by Jimmy Cliff
Preceded by
"Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" by Peter Schilling
German Singles Chart number-one single
25 March 1983
Succeeded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo