In this episode, we tuned the radio to the song 99 Luftballons (or 99 Red Balloons) by the band Nena and talked about its connections to nuclear weapons, the Cold War arms race, and anti-nuclear protests. How did the threat of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe inspire Nena to write this catchy dirge? What happens when early warning systems confuse 99 balloons for UFOs and nukes? What artist will win their Grammy about the dangers of Gamma Rays? Tim Westmyer and returning special guest Will Saetren (@WillSaetren) answer these questions and more.

Here is a breakdown of the German, English, and direct German-English translation versions:

German Lyrics Direct Translation English Lyrics
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.

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 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 red balloons

Floating in the summer sky

Panic bells, it’s red alert

There’s something here from somewhere else

The war machine, it springs to life

Opens up one eager eye

Focusing it on the sky

As 99 red balloons go by

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 Decision Street

99 ministers meet

To worry, worry, super-scurry

Call out the troops now 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 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 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 red balloons go by

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).

99 dreams I have had

In every one a red balloon

It’s all over and I’m standin’ 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

Before we hit shuffle on our nuke war mix to lament the death of the INF Treaty, we recommend checking out:

Visit the show resources page on our website for more information on the topics discussed on the podcast episode.

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