This article is for quizzes on Wednesday May 12th...    

"99 Luftballons" (German Neunundneunzig Luftballons, "99 air balloons") is an anti-war protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English version titled "99 Red Balloons", written by Kevin McAlea, was also released after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German and contains a somewhat different set of lyrics.
The translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, "Ninety-Nine Balloons" is more accurate. A Luftballon is a colourful toy balloon, rather than a balloon for transport or research. The name is derived from Luft, German for "air", but the meaning of Luft as a noun does not qualify the type of balloon; however, as an adjective meaning "aerial" resulting in an understanding of "airborne balloons." The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first lines of lyrics, with "red" replacing "Luft"; the only difference is that neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine".

The lyrics of the original German version tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders, and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. At the end, the singer walks through the devastated ruins, and lets loose a balloon, watching it fly away.

The English version retains the spirit of the original narrative, but many of the lyrics are translated poetically rather than the direct narration of the original: a bag's worth of red helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty early warning system; these balloons are mistaken for an attack which results in panic, and eventually nuclear wars.

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