99 Luftballons (3:51)

Cover of Nena

From Nena and 382 other releases

“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.

When it made the charts in the United States, most US radio DJs incorrectly assumed that “99 Luftballons” translated to English as “99 Red Balloons” and spoke the number 99 in English, saying “Ninety-nine Luftballoons.”

The translation of the title is sometimes given as “Ninety-Nine Air Balloons”, however “Ninety-Nine Balloons” is also correct. 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 does not qualify the type of balloon. 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 the missing counterpart to the German syllable “und” in “Neunundneunzig” (literally “nine and ninety”).

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