Daily Archives: November 9, 2020

Story Pile: 99 Red Balloons/99 Luftballons

I did not know these songs were different.

For those not aware, there are two songs that are commonly seen as being the same songs – Nena’s 99 Luftballons and the English version, 99 Red Ballons. Now it is just literally an assumption that I made that the songs are basically the same. This is as many assumptions, pretty weird and misguided, especially when I already know about Simple & Clean and its predecessor unrelated song Hikari.

The basic narrative; the singer and a non-specific you buy some balloons, inflate them, and let them go, and then the world ends.

You know, a pop song.

In the German version, which Nena have expressed a preference for, the sequence of events is that the released balloons look like a UFO. One force comes to inspect them, then, rather than admit they were fooled by balloons, fire off some rockets to look impressive. The other side sees the display of strength, and, balloons forgotten, they retaliate with a similar show of force. And then it escalates and nuclear war ensues. The singer walks through the wreckage of the lost world, finds a balloon, and lets it go into the sky. It’s very sad and wistful and also extremely 1980s German, to hear tell of the spirit of the age.

The English language version introduces an interesting wrinkle: It’s specifically instigated by bugs in the software that respond to the threat and escalate things. Oh, sure, both sides escalate the same way (there’s a verse in German in the English version), but the thing that kicks it off isn’t a pilot feeling embarrassed at being asked to inspect balloons, but rather complications in an automated system starting hostilities without a human interface.

Now, Nena, like I said (or implied I guess), don’t like the English version, they feel it takes a different take they don’t want to go in. Fair. I personally really like the English version now, because I don’t live in Cold War Germany. I live in Australia, where it’s entirely possible a badly made piece of software will result in immense harm, because of a glitch, and our solution to that is to go ‘uh, whoopsy?’ The fear of us abdicating serious and important decisions to computers is kinda on my mind.

Okay, but why do I care about this? It isn’t like I’m a big 1980s German Pop Hits fan. I’m not aware of this stuff, maybe I know a Queen song or two, or one or two Bowie songs that wound up in videogames. I was introduced to the song thanks to Goldfinger, who have recently re-ceovered their cover, because uhhh, you know, all the stuff.

Now I’m a big fan of ska bands from the 90s and early 00s that kept their heads and grew up a bit. Perhaps obviously, I’m a big fan of this song, and I like this version best.

And this year is when I finally went ‘hang on a second’ and looked up the German lyrics and learned about the two versions of this song. One of them is very clearly, in my mind, a Nena song, and the other, a Goldfinger song.

What motivated this?

Me wondering: Hang on, was super scurry in the German version?

(It’s not)