Learn the German Lyrics to Nena's '99 Luftballons' Song

Discover how this early-1980s hit translates into English

Lyrics for '99 Red Balloons' in German and English
ThoughtCo. 

You may have heard the 1980s pop song "99 Red Balloons," but you may not know that it was originally a German tune. The German pop singer and group, Nena, released the international hit song in 1983 and the English version a year later. Nena was the stage name of the group's lead singer (Gabriele Susanne Kerner) as well as the group itself. Though Nena (the band and singer) had a few hits after that, "99 Luftballons" was by far its most significant success and remains a favorite in both languages.

Balloons Soar, Nena Fades

"99 Luftballons" was an antiwar protest song written by the band's guitarist Carlo Karges. Karges had attended a Rolling Stones concert in 1982 in what was then West Berlin, where that band released hundreds of helium-filled balloons. He wondered how East German or Soviet forces might react if balloons crossed the Berlin Wall, which still stood at the time. The song was composed by the band's keyboardist, Jörn-Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen.

After the massive hit, whose English-language version reached No. 1 in the U.S. in 1984, Kerner's career, as well as that of the band, leveled off, especially in the non-German-speaking world. The group broke up in 1987. Karges never joined another band and passed away in Germany at age 50. Fahrenkrog-Petersen moved to New York, formed another band, worked with the American punk group The Plasmatics and even wrote several Hollywood movie soundtracks.

Kerner made a comeback in 2005 when she released a new album that returned her to the spotlight. Several songs from her "Willst du Mit Mir Gehn?" ("Will You Go With Me?") album shot up in the German radio charts. But she, Karges, and Fahrenkrog-Petersen never had another success that soared as high as the balloons, though Kerner continues to record and tour as of August 2018.

It can be a great German-language lesson to learn the lyrics of this catchy tune, which still holds up well decades after its release in both languages.

"99 Luftballons" Lyrics and Translation

The song, released in Germany in February 1983, soon had a sister version in English, written by Kevin McAlea, which was released in North America in 1984. That song (also sung by Nena) loosely follows the German lyrics, though it is not the same as the direct English translation printed here for learning purposes.

German LyricsDirect Translation
Hast du etwas Zeit für mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Denkst du vielleicht g'rad an mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Und dass so was von so was kommt
Do you have you some time for me,
if so I'll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
on their way to the horizon.
Maybe you're thinking about me right now
if so I'll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
and that such a thing comes from such a thing.
  
99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General
'ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn es so wär
Dabei war'n da am Horizont
Nur 99 Luftballons
99 balloons
on their way to the horizon
People think they're UFOs from space
so a general sent up
a fighter squadron after them
Sound the alarm if it's so
but there on the horizon were
only 99 balloons.
  
99 Düsenjäger
Jeder war ein großer Krieger
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht
Dabei schoss man am Horizont
Auf 99 Luftballons
99 fighter jets
Each one's a great warrior
Thought they were Captain Kirk
then came a lot of fireworks
the neighbors didn't understand anything
and felt like they were being provoked
so they shot at the horizon
at 99 balloons.
  
99 Kriegsminister -
Streichholz und Benzinkanister -
Hielten sich für schlaue Leute
Witterten schon fette Beute
Riefen Krieg und wollten Macht
Mann, wer hätte das gedacht
Dass es einmal soweit kommt
Wegen 99 Luftballons
99 war ministers
matches and gasoline canisters
They thought they were clever people
already smelled a nice bounty
Called for war and wanted power.
Man, who would've thought
that things would someday go so far
because of 99 balloons.
  
99 Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt's nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger
Heute zieh' ich meine Runden
Seh' die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab' 'nen Luftballon gefunden
Denk' an dich und lass' ihn fliegen
99 years of war
left no room for victors.
There are no more war ministers
nor any jet fighters.
Today I'm making my rounds
see the world lying in ruins.
I found a balloon,
think of you and let it fly (away).

The German and English lyrics are provided for educational use only. No infringement of copyright is implied or intended. The literal, prose translations of the original German lyrics by Hyde Flippo are not from the English version sung by Nena.

Popular Songs by Nena (Kerner)

If you find that you liked "99 Balloons," you might enjoy hearing—and learning the lyrics to—other songs by Kerner, released both before, during, and after her years with the band that rose from its German roots and strode so dramatically onto the world stage with its politically charged, early 1980s song.