Berlin Wall Music Monday: 99 Luftballoons

Monday, March 10, 2014

Long before I went to Berlin I was singing and dancing to "99 Luftballoons/99 Red Balloons" (both the German and English versions were on the record my husband had bought while in graduate school at Yale).

It wasn't until I began to research and write Going Over, the Berlin novel that launches in three weeks, that I understood the greater significance of the song. Its rhythms filter into Ada's dreams. Its possibilities filtered into mine.

Here is part of the story, as presented by Object Retrieval.

"99 Luftballons" is a Cold War-era protest song by the German singer Nena. Originally sung in German, it was later re-recorded in English as "99 Red Balloons".

"99 Luftballons" reached #1 in West Germany in 1983. In 1984, the original German version also peaked at #2 on the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and the English-language version topped the UK Singles Chart. The German version topped the Australian charts for five weeks and the New Zealand charts for one week.

While at a Rolling Stones concert in 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 nothing like a mass of balloons but some strange spacecraft. (The word in the German lyrics "UFO") He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.

Both the English and German versions of the song tell a story of 99 balloons floating into the air, triggering an apocalyptic overreaction by military forces. The music was composed by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, the keyboardist of Nena's band, while Karges wrote the original German lyrics.

Interested in Berlin Wall music?

Check out Bruce Springsteen singing Bob Dylan in one of the most moving Springsteen performances ever.

Check out Elton John, slyly singing "Nikita."

Check out The Chipmunks singing "Let the Wall Come Down."


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