The 98 Luftballoons

Alrighty then, as TV news is still consumed by the Chinese balloon thing, I need to get a couple of things in. Did the US shoot it down when over Cheney’s sparse area of the country? Nope. Nor before that. Let it wander all the way to The Atlantic. If it was ever a threat (and no, it was not), that thing would have been taken out days and thousands of miles before it was.

But, now, after constant briefing of President Biden, it was shot down. And now there are only 98 instead of 99.

There are now only 98 Luftballoons left. Marcy was spot on with “Wag The Derigible”. Yes, it is exactly that stupid. Every second of it. Make it stop please.

That said, our friend Scribe sent me something. 99 Luftballoons was not just a one hit wonder on American MTV.

Prior to today, I could not have named the musician/singer, Gabriele Susanne Kerner, if my life depended on it. But, holy shit, it is not just she, but an entire band in Germany, and they are seriously good.

NENA. Wow.

62 replies
  1. BobBobCon says:

    It’s interesting to me how there has been almost zero memory of this incident from just seven years ago.

    The US had a huge surveillance blimp above the Aberdeen Proving Grounds — if you drove up I-95, you would see it from miles away. At least, until the tether broke and it flew into Pennsylvania.

    As the article noted, the whole program was a mess — the combination of software problems and then the physical problem should reinforce the idea that balloons are a wildly unreliable system for this kind of work. At least, they’d reinforce it if anyone remembered.

  2. Vinnie Gambone says:

    Not quite as dramatic as the Hindenberg, but Balloon pop will serve nicely as cover for the GOP’S new album : THE GOP’S TOP FLOPS.

  3. scribe says:

    Nena is the band, and Gabby Kerner’s lifelong nickname.

    Nene is an endangered species of goose from Hawaii.

      • wa_rickf says:

        Both Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders started off as punk artists and moved to mainstream.

        • theartistvvv says:

          mmmm – The Runaways were not punk, they were a more or less manufactured band (think, Monkees), acolytes of Kim Fowley. Of course, one could say similar of The Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren …

          Joan Jett played a bar I worked in back in the early 80’s as she was coming off *Bad Reputation* and just breaking with *I Love Rock and Roll*. She played Studio One Live in Champaign, IL mebbe 3-5 times, seemed a nice person, cracked her gum, loved her leather. As a mere bartender, I was kinda not cool enuff to party with her, tho’, or at least not asked. I think I recall her playing onna bill with David Jo, or mebbe The Romantics …

          Her guitarist on the album and in the video, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, was subsequently in a few known bands (like, Steve Earle’s) and is now an engineer and producer, is a current “forum friend” to me where we talk production and gear, lately his new *Cutthroat* amp; I probably met him in Jett’s band but don’t remember.

          Last I saw of Jett was some uchoob vids with her and Miley Cyrus at some last-summer fest.

        • Kevin Bullough says:

          The band I was in (back in the mid-nineties) recorded in a studio here in Vancouver B.C., immediately after Joan finished her session. She’d left behind a pile of lyric sheets, which she’d scrawled notes on. Her thoughts ranged from the wickedly funny to the enormously self-critical. I felt like I got to know her a little bit, which was cool.

      • swmarks53 says:

        Friends (some of whom were members of The Reducers) and I partied with Joan Jett’s band. Before the show. She didn’t seem very happy about that.

        • bmaz says:

          You never know. She, and whatever band, seemed fine. But you never know. And can’t blame musicians for being moody. My interaction was not particularly long, but she seemed pretty nice. And once on stage, was seriously good. Very long time ago now though.

          • Troutwaxer says:

            I once went with a friend who worked at a music store to deliver a guitar she was to sign. We didn’t interact much, but she was being very “musician” that day and seemed nice enough. We did get concert tickets for the next day, which was cool.

          • swmarks53 says:

            She was seriously good that night, too. In a dinky little club in the dinky little town of New London, CT, on like a Wednesday night.

      • Fraud Guy says:

        Had the Luftballons album, now on CD-fun to listen to even if I didn’t understand the lyrics in college.

  4. wa_rickf says:

    Those of us familiar with the 1983 99-Luft Balloon track know the group as Nena Hagen. The group Nena was from Hagen, Germany. Kemer was the lead vocalist and song writer, but the band was not her band per se, she was simply the lead singer much like Bono is not U2, but part of the group and is their lead singer and songwriter.

      • Peterr says:

        That group broke up in the late 80s. Nina’s new band is the one featured in the video you attached to this post.

    • Frank Anon says:

      Nina Hagen was way cooler than Nena, the band. East German refugee, family of holocaust survivors hard and harsh real Punk music, met the times that the 80’s were in germany, which were pretty intense by my memory. Loved 99 Luftbaloons, but they are not the same

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Nina Hagen became an obsession of mine four decades ago. Her name triggers nostalgia for the dirty New York City of the punk era, before Blondie went mainstream via video. Still have all Nina Hagen records, vinyl.

        Speaking of “out there,” check out her work with James White.

          • Ginevra diBenci says:

            artistvvv, “skronk” is new to me. Going onamotapoetically, (I give up after trying half a dozen spellings) it sounds like my memory of those times. I’m just not cool enough to keep up with the argot.

  5. Artzen Frankengueuze says:

    Nina Hagen is an artist in her own right, German punk singer, and has nothing to do with Nena, or the city of Hagen.
    But I could see the joke being made as a nickname for a new band from Hagen almost named Nina.

      • Artzen Frankengueuze says:

        Absolutely she (Kerner)did sing the 99 Luftbaloons song.

        I was just pointing out to not confuse her and the band Nena, with Nina Hagen.

        (Goes back to the wa_rickf post above.)

      • scribe says:

        This has been a perennial source of confusion.
        Nina Hagen is a German punk singer, actress and artist originally from East Berlin. Her mother was an actress and her father a singer-songwriter. She made her way West about shortly after her father gave a concert in Cologne and then was not allowed back into East Germany (by the East German government. One way to get rid of an antiestablishment thorn). She was a serious punk rocker. I recall her most popular song in the early 80s was one with the chorus “Ich glaub’s TV” (I believe the TV), which worked very well over the music from The Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope”. Read her wiki – she was all about being way, way, way out there. To put it mildly, her “…public persona was steadily creating media uproar.” Iconoclasm was not enough.

        Gabby “Nena” Kerner of the band Nena was born in the German city of Hagen, which is part of the Ruhr area. (Thus the confusion.) Per her wiki, she got the nickname “Nena” while a kid on vacation with her family in Spain, where “nena” is the slang/dialect name for “girl”.

        Both of them went through the West Berlin art/music scene, but several years apart. At that time, young Germans of artistic bent gravitated to West Berlin because it was still under Allied occupation and consequently the German military could not draft them while they lived there. Kind of an art incubator, inadvertently.

    • Rugger_9 says:

      Wasn’t Nina Hagen kicked out of the DDR (East Germany) for irrepressible weirdness? I had a roomie (later an Army officer) who liked her stuff and he mentioned that.

      • scribe says:

        Pretty much.
        Her dad (actually stepdad) Wolf Biermann was an anti-Establishment singer-songwriter in the DDR. He was permitted to give a concert in Cologne then refused re-entry to the DDR when he went to return home.
        Nina already had a bit of a following by that time. She said to the DDR authorities, in so many words, she’d be the next Wolf Biermann if they didn’t let her and her mother go West.
        DDR authorities recognized the path of least resistance and took it.

  6. rosalind says:

    trying to think where in my record stash my EP of “99 Luftballoons” sung in German is. bought it with my staff discount at the cool hip happening record store i was working in ’83-’84.

      • StillHopeful says:

        Way back when, the original Tower Records in Sacratomato (local euphemism), was the place to go; many rows of vinyl.

        Always searching for the latest T.Rex or Beach Boys (new or old). Still remember the feeling of pulling through the albums, one by one, hoping to find Gold.

        • bmaz says:

          And, at least in LA, they were open very late. You could basically close out at a bar and drop in to look for some vinyl. That was fun.

          By the way, it is not like going to a giant lit up Tower Records of yore, but National Record Store Day is coming up on April 22. It is still great fun to wander around looking for the vinyl. The pandemic interrupted it for me, but intend to get back at it this year I hope.

          • posaune says:

            Oh, so wistful, bmaz . . . . . the hours I spent at Tower Record in the Village — such a good percentage of my life back then. Could almost count on finding mr. posaune in there — daily! Thanks for the memory!

            • theartistvvv says:

              For me the best thing about Tower Records (because the mini concerts were always too crowded) were the imports. I have a number of John Peel and BBC and King Biscuit Flower Hour and Rock Palast records from there, some vinyl.

  7. Silly but True says:

    “I loved that 80s balloon song. What a light, bouncy dance song…”

    Me: “Right. /sings song: ‘Heute zieh ich meine Runden
    Seh’ die Welt in Trümmern liegen…’”

    Back in high school German language class we spent a week on this song as cultural diversion. Have always loved them!

    [FYI – your email address on this post was corrected to change your typo from .con to .com. Please pay more attention to these kinds of input errors as a future update to the comment system won’t allow “new” identities with typographical errors. /~Rayne]

  8. GWPDA says:

    I still buy my cars at Bill Luke (Frank Luke’s baby brother), in Phoenix. Frank Luke – the AZ Balloon Buster, – The Arizona Balloon Buster.

    Frank Luke, Jr. was the second highest scoring USAS Ace of WWI, with 18 victories. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, May 19, 1897 to Mr. and Mrs Frank Luke, Sr.

    Frank Luke enlisted in the Signal Corps, U.S. Army, on September 25, 1917, as a private. He was then sent for flying training to Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, on January 23, 1918, and was subsequently commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps.

    Arriving overseas for advanced flying training, he was stationed at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudon, France, where he remained untl May 30, 1918, leaving for Caziaux. On July 26, 1918, he was ordered to active duty at the front with the 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, in the Aisne-Marne salient.

    Frank Luke stood out among the others, as a lone wolf flyer at a time when formation flying was becoming the order of the day. He continued to make savage solo attacks at the enemy, even against orders to the contrary. He made a specialty of attacking observation balloons, possibly the toughest target any pilot in WWI could face, as they were protected by scores of machine guns and AA artillery, not to mention the occasional fighter squadron.

    Yet, Frank Luke managed to down no fewer than 13 of these formidable targets in just one week of September 1918, two days of which he did not fly. One on day alone, September 18, 1918, he shot down 2 balloons and 3 aircraft. Yet, he would be dead, killed in action just 10 days later.

    On September 28, 1918, while attacking two German observation balloons, the law of averages caught up with the young ace. He was severely wounded, and forced to land near the town of Murvaux, but not before he made a strafing run against a column of German soldiers along the road, killing six, and wounding many more.

    When his plane landed, not far from where he attacked the German infantry. He got out to find himself surrounded by the enemy. The Germans called for him to surrender, but that was the last thing on his mind. He pulled his pistol and started shooting, the German infantry returned fire, ending his brief career.

    Only 21 at the time of his death, he was also the ranking US ace at that time, with 14 balloons, and 4 airplanes for a total of 18 kills. He was the first of only two US aces to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for deeds of bravery in WWI (Eddie Rickenbacker being the second).

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      What a fascinating history, thank you for sharing that.

      My Great-Uncle was Eddie Richenbacker’s mechanic in the War. I have a button hook, a letter opener and a ‘swagger stick’ made from one of Rickenbacker’s propellers.

  9. Frank M78 says:

    “You can’t see it by satellite, baby that’s cheatin’
    the President called an emergency meetin’
    the king of siam sent a telegram saying
    Wop Bop a lop a lop boom Bam…

    The Cramps “What’s Inside a Girl”

    • Konny_2022 says:

      That’s not a translation of the original “99 Luftballons.” The link provided by Punaise in the other post leads to the song sung be Nena herself in English. Both text versions are available on Nena’s German internet presence and may be compared for the quality of the translation.

  10. Nom du Guerre says:

    99 Luftballoons was released in March 1983. The song was extremely poignant in that moment for a still-divided Germany, just as Reagan was ratcheting up the cold war rhetoric. That same month, Reagan had started calling the USSR the “Evil Empire” and proposed the so called “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative — just a couple of months prior to the release of the movie “WarGames.” From what I’ve read, the band wasn’t so interested in being identified as a political actor – but that song!
    It captured a real feeling.
    Not really in the same category as Jett, who was way more of a punker, gothy looks notwithstanding. Nena was different. More electronica, very europop.
    I spent a couple of weeks in the GDR in 1999 and several of weeks in the west (not to mention months in Bosnia, etc.). The cold war was still so ever-present- for so long – there.
    It’s less remarkable that Luftballoons was a hit in Europe, that just makes sense. More remarkable is the impact in the West generally.
    That the German version was a bigger hit in the U.S. than the English version, that’s really interesting.

  11. Verrückte Pferd says:

    sometime after the song became MTV popular in the US, my teen son said; Pop, you’ll never believe who i saw today on the 30 Stockton. Nena, she was sitting in the back, i talked with her. (Ahhh, san francisco days, and with Eric Burdon, nights.)

  12. ExRacerX says:

    I was totally into heavy metal when this song/video/band was happening, so I pretty much disregarded it along with all things not metal. Looking back with the hindsight of age, it’s a cool and culturally important song.

    That said, when it comes to anti-nuclear holocaust tunes, I still prefer Black Sabbath’s Electric Funeral or Critical Mass by Nuclear Assault…

  13. Jared Shoemaker Jr says:

    She was also in one of my favorite shows growing up that I could only see when Disney was having a preview week. Kids, Incorporated with one Stacey Ferguson

  14. Canard32 says:


    Missing in this discussion is the “Open Skies” agreement.

    In years past low level over flights were a regular occurrence in both the US And the USSR as per the “Open Skies” treaty / agreement. These were made with the express purpose of de-escalation of conflicts. In fact it was common practice at US military facilities to “Cover Up” when over flights or satellite passes were made.

    So the Chinese while perhaps not a party to the “Open Skies” agreement are doing nothing new..

    Should our clever government start discussions with both the Chinese and the Soviets to reinstate the Open Skies ?

  15. Karboy934 says:

    Rayne, using this new name to be in compliance. I hope I got it right.
    Off topic slightly. Yesterday I picked up a used cd @ friends of library store. Largely unknown supergroup. Jeff Beck lead guitar, Pete Townshend acoustic and rhythm guitar, Mick Jagger vocals. The album, She’s the Boss, a Stone alone Mick Jagger solo album from 1985. Assorted other stars on various tracks. I love reading liner notes. Finding a lineup like this was a small thrill I wanted to share.

    [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. Don’t forget to capitalize the first letter each time. /~Rayne]

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