Friday, April 22, 2005

99 Luftballoons

In 1984 a German new-wave band, led by singer Gabrielle "Nena" Kerner released a beautiful song about the end of the world. The song was called 99 Luftballoons and it was an international hit.

The song was a bit bizarre even for a year that featured "Where's The Beef", Miami Vice and the first robot related death in the United States.

The song told the story of some balloons that caused a nuclear war. Eventually the song made its way to the U.S. and it was decided to rewrite the lyrics in English.

Here they are:

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Til one by one, they were gone
Back at base bugs in the software
Flash the message, something's out there
Floating in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells it's red alert
There's something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky as 99 red balloons go by

99 Decision street
99 ministers meet
To worry, worry, super flurry
Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we've waited for
This is it boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As 99 red balloons go by

99 knights of the air
Ride super high tech jet fighters
Everyone's a super hero Everyone's a Captain Kirk
With orders to identify
To clarify, and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 dreams I have had In every one a red balloon
It's all over and I'm standing pretty
In this dust that was a city
If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you, and let it go

The song is cute and bouncy and mentions Captain Kirk, what could be better?

The German version, perhaps?

When the song debuted in the U.S. both versions were played on the radio, but the German version was played far more often. Today, 80s stations seem to play the English version far more often. I like ending sentences with the words "far more often". I should do it far more often.

If you want to read the lyrics click here. If you don't know German, they will mean nothing to you.

I threw the German language version into a translator and what I got back made very little sense. Take a look:

You have something time for me
then sing I a song for you
from 99 ballons
on its way to the horizon think
you degrees ' of me
then perhaps sing I a song for you
from 99 ballons
and that sowas of sowas

Next time you meet someone German, tell them they are the "sowas of sowas" see if you get punched in the mouth. If not, ask them what it means.
comes one regarded
99 ballons on its way to the horizon
as uFOs from the universe
therefore sent a general a flier relay
afterwards alarm to give
if it were like that thereby were
there on the horizon
only 99 ballons
99 jet military planes
of everyone was not a large krieger
held themselves for Captain Kirk

GERMAN GUY: Are you a large krieger?
OTHER GERMAN GUY: No, I'm holding myself for Captain Kirk.
GERMAN GUY: Is he the one with the pointy ears?
OTHER GERMAN GUY: You are such a sowa.
gave large fireworks the neighbours
anything gerafft and felt thereby shot
equivalent put on one on the horizon
on 99 ballons
99 war Ministers match
and gasoline can

99 War Ministers, 99 ballons, a match and a gasoline can walk into a bar. The bartender says "Hey! Is this some kind of a joke?"
regarded themselves as smart people
Witterten already fat booty scoring:
War and it wanted power man,

NOW WE ARE TALKING! We have fat booty scoring AND my favorite superhero, Powerman!
who would have that meant that
it once so far comes ways
99 ballons 99 years war
did not leave no place for winner
war Minister gives it any longer
and also no nozzle fliers today

No nozzle fliers? Damn, I had such a craving for a nozzle flier.
pull I mean for rounds
See the world in rubble to be appropriate
have ' nen ballon found
think ' of you and let ' it fly

There it is, in English, sorta.

Sadly, translation sites aren't perfect as evidenced here, here and just to see if you are clicking on the links: here.

Luckily I found someone that had done a better translation here.

Here are THOSE lyrics:
If you have some time for me
Then I'll sing a song for you
About 99 balloons
On their way to the horizon
Perhaps you think of me a bit
Then I'll sing a song for you
About 99 balloons
And that something (like the war) comes from such a thing (the balloons)

You'll notice some major changes right off the bat. See, in order to make the English version rhyme some liberties had to be taken. This verse mentions nothing of buying the balloons at a "little toy shop" and there are no "bugs in the software" it sounds much sweeter than then the opening of the English version.
99 balloons
On their way to the horizon
Seemed like UFOs from space
So a general sent
A flying squad out there
To raise the alarm if it was true
Yet there on the horizon were
Only 99 balloons

The change of "summer sky" to "on the horizon" seems like a little one, but it's not. See, Nena is really cute and it is much more fun to think of her blowing up balloons in a skimpy summer outfit rather than a winter coat.
99 jet hunters
Each one was a great warrior
Thought that they were Captain Kirk
There were great fireworks
The neighbors didn't understand anything
And felt immediately felt provoked
Yet there they shot on the horizon
At 99 balloons

So, Kirk remains. That is the important part.

We don't hear the address "99 Decision Street" in this. Too bad. I always wanted to live there. It was near Wishy-Washy Lane and That-Damn-Woman-Can'T-Make-Up-Her-Freakin'-Mind Boulevard.
99 war ministers
Matches and petrol cans
Thought that they were clever people
Already smelled greasy loot

I am a little grossed out by "greasy loot". I really prefer "fat booty".
Shouted: War, and wanted power
Man, who would have thought
That one day it would come to this
Because of 99 balloons

99 years of war
Don't leave a place for victors
There are no ministers any more
No jet engines either
Today I'm doing my rounds
Seeing the world lying in ruins
Found a balloon
Think of you and let it fly

Some more differences; and some lines that are almost identical as the song comes to a close.

Nena next issued an English-language album called "It's All in the Game". The album was not a hit and in a couple years the band broke up. Still, time can never deflate the luftballoon in our hearts.

Now I am off, to score some FAT BOOTY!


  1. I always wondered how they could translate a song like this and have it
    A) Make sense
    B) Still rhyme
    C) Still fit with the music

    I am glad I found out! I hope you liked it too!

  2. Anonymous4/22/2005

    I like the German version better!

  3. Anonymous4/22/2005

    "Everyone's a super hero Everyone's a Captain Kirk"

    Does that make Captain Kirk a superhero or every superhero a spaceship captain? What if I want to be a Scotty or Mr. Sulu?

  4. Anonymous4/22/2005

    Captain Kirk was on Star Trek.

  5. Anonymous4/22/2005

    Luftwaterballoons are much more fun.

    This is the word of Todd.

  6. Anonymous4/22/2005

    AWESOME! One of my fav songs (the EnGLisH version, bruddah!) glad to see it here!

  7. Anonymous4/22/2005

    Nina is hot.... I like her luftballoons.

  8. I always liked this song, the English version though.

  9. Anonymous4/25/2005

    I like this song, don't you think it would have been great if they played it during Ashton's film "Guess Who". Only, the family could have been American Indians rather than black. That way the "red" part would make sense. They could also have 97 children.
    Oh, plus they could be balloons.

  10. Anonymous4/25/2005

    I love this song. AMERICAN VERSION!!!!

    This is the word of Todd.