Ninety-nine Balloons

Predictive powers are a sought after quality in palliative care – so how did Nena get it so right in 1983?

by Prof. Mark Taubert, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Cardiff, UK
For many Germans like me, who grew up in the Eighties, there’s been a sense of déjà vu. The international furore around suspicious balloons in the sky was predicted by the German singer Nena in a popular 1980’s song.
If you take the time to study the lyrics of her original German language war protest song, ‘99 Luftballons’ (and to an extent the less detailed English language version ‘99 Red Balloons’ released some time later), the arrival of balloons on the horizon, and the resulting international brouhaha, are vividly described; and rather reminiscent of contemporaneous events.

“99 Luftballons, auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont, hielt man fuer UFOs aus dem All. Darum schickte ein General, ‘ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher, Alarm zu geben wenn’s so waer, dabei waren dort am Horizont, nur 99 Luftballons.”
Translated, the above describes the appearance of ninety-nine balloons on the horizon, which are thought to be UFOs from space. A general deploys a reconnaissance squadron, to investigate and sound alarm. But, alas, it’s just 99 ordinary balloons..

The song continues in this vein, but things soon take a darker turn. 99 fighter jets are scrambled, and each of its pilots thinks he is Captain Kirk (another popular cap’ in the eighties, depicted by William Shatner of recent space-exploring fame). Naturally, there’s a big firework display. The neighbouring countries don’t understand and feel attacked. But all that is really happening, is that some rather expensive military jets are shooting down some cheap old balloons.

Subsequently 99 Kriegsminister (war ministers), who think they are rather clever and can sense large sums for their war chests, shout ‘war!’ and crave more power. Nena reflects on who might have thought that balloons could cause THIS much disruption and fuss?

Let us hope Nena’s predictions don’t end being too accurate when it comes to the end of her song. 99 Jahre Krieg! Yes, events have led to a 99-year-long war. Death, ruin, destruction. Nothing much is left, now, but: the singer finds one balloon amidst all the carnage and ruin, thinks of her one true love, and… lets it float off. Bit risky, but hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

Maybe that’s what we all need to do as well: let it go.

The author is German and first heard Nena’s song in primary school in Germany in 1983.

Twitter: @ProfMarkTaubert
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