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  • A Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin inspired the premise of Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
  • Nena said the song was supposed to promote peace and wasn’t meant to be a political song.
  • “99 Luftballons” was prevented from topping the Billboard Hot 100 by a Van Halen track.
The Rolling Stones with balloons
The Rolling Stones | Gary Gershoff / Contributor

Nena’s “99 Luftballons” is one of the most unique classic rock songs of the 1980s. During an interview, one of the song’s writers said a Rolling Stones concert inspired him to craft “99 Luftballons.” The tune became a huge hit in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Nena’s ’99 Luftballons’ was inspired by balloons released at a Rolling Stones concert

“99 Luftballons” is a song about how soldiers seeing some unidentified balloons escalates into nuclear war. According to a 2016 Salon article, a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin inspired the unusual song.

During the concert, someone released some balloons into the air. Songwriter Carlo Karges wondered what might happen if the balloons floated toward East Berlin. “A simple balloon could cause a war because of a big misunderstanding,” Karges said.

Nena discussed her feelings about “99 Luftballons.” “It was never meant to be a specific political song,” she said. “The message was that misunderstandings between people can cause everything, can cause a butterfly effect. We were never a political band with our lyrics — but we were always people who wanted peace in the world. ’99 Luftballons’ was this sort of a song. It was always a peace song.”

Nena’s record company didn’t want her to release the song because it was uncommercial

During a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Nena said she was enthusiastic about the song when she first heard it. “I said, ‘I want to sing it right away,'” she recalled. “We did the song in one hour. And then we decided to release it as a single in Germany.”

Some people didn’t like “99 Luftballons” as much as Nena did. “Our record company said ‘Please don’t do that, there’s no chorus, it’s not commercial enough,'” she remembered. “But we were all so touched by the song.”


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How ’99 Luftballons’ performed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom

“99 Luftballons” became a huge hit in the United States, which is very rare for a German-language song. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was prevented from reaching No. 1 by another classic 1980s song: “Jump” by Van Halen. Notably, both songs draw inspiration from new wave music.

Nena also recorded an English-language version of “99 Luftballons” called “99 Red Balloons.” According to The Official Charts Company, this recording of the song reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom for three weeks. It lasted on the chart for 12 weeks.

The band’s album Nena became a hit in the U.K. as well. The album reached No. 31 in the U.K. and lasted on the chart for five weeks.

Nena’s “99 Luftballons” became a huge hit and it wouldn’t be the same without The Rolling Stones.