Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | April 1, 2007

80s Music Video Sunday #17

My parents grew up in the US against the backdrop of the World War Two. As such, like many other American Jews of their generation, their feelings regarding Germany were harsh at best. As a child of parents from this generation, I was brought up in a household with no German products, and my parents have never owned a German car. I can’t recall my parents ever having said anything directly negative about Germany (they did not hate Germany, for instance), but all the same, I knew. I knew that we didn’t buy German products because we would not spend any money that might potentially benefit those who may have had something to do with the Holocaust.

This “boycott”, combined with a voracious appetite for books about children in the Holocaust, resulted in a strange curiosity about the Germany of today, which involved feelings of wanting to know more, while at the same time feeling slightly uncomfortable about wanting to do so. Whenever we had exchange students from Germany in our high school, I found myself attracted to their presence, but it was almost in a “forbidden fruit” sort of way, as though by reaching out and making friends I was doing something unusual and daring. Somewhere in the back of my mind lurked the possibility that somehow, my new friends may have had some connection to Nazi Germany, and this was exciting, for I felt that I was actively doing something to meet and beat my prejudices. And, as I discovered, my German peers were also anxious to cast off the dark skeletons of the past, to demonstrate that the grave sins of their ancestors were not their own. This was brought home to me one afternoon during the summer after high school graduation. I was out with a group of American and international students, including a number of German teens (and NRG, who just seems to pop up everywhere…). We were having a great time, laughing, joking and horsing around. One of the German students, a charming young man named Wolfgang (with whom NRG and her family are still in close touch), laughingly said to someone, “I’m going to kill you.” Who among us hasn’t said that to someone else at one time or another, right? Of course we don’t mean it, and we often say it in a joking manner, which is, of course, what Wolfgang had done. One of the American girls in the group (who was clearly not the quickest bunny in the forest), jokingly responded with something to the effect of, “well, if you say you’re going to kill me, you must be Hitler, because you’re German!” I was completely and utterly shocked by her comment, and poor Wolfgang looked like he’d been physically slapped. I was horrified and embarrassed, embarrassed that someone could say something so stupid, embarrassed for Wolfgang, who was truly a nice, good guy. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that scene or how hurt our German friend looked.

I remember my first trip to Israel, and I was amazed to see all the Mercedes and BMW taxis and buses. Clearly, the Israelis were much farther along in dealing with their feelings regarding Germany than were the American Jews of my parents’ generation. Today, many of the appliances in our home are German, and I’ve never thought twice about their purchase. I have never been to Germany, and was once asked during a job interview if I would have a problem flying to Germany periodically for business. I admitted that I had never been there, and privately wondered whether the slivers of my remaining emotional baggage would have a problem. I didn’t get the job in the end, and I still haven’t been to Germany (though not on purpose – it just hasn’t happened).

As a result of growing up with this identity, hearing German being spoken was always something that stood out. Not in a bad way, but more like suddenly hearing something exciting, an unusual event (of course, I also felt this way when hearing Hebrew, and sometimes still feel this way when hearing Arabic outside of Israel). So of course, when, during the 80s, a number of songs were released in both English and the original German, I was quite drawn to them. I bought the singles (most likely in English), I felt a rush of adrenaline when hearing the songs in German. One of the songs became a favorite of mine, and the German version is today’s feature video – 99 Luftballons (99 Red Balloons), by Nena.

99 Luftballons
Nena

Hast Du etwas Zeit für mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied fuer Dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Denkst Du vielleicht grad’ an mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied fuer Dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Und dass sowas von sowas kommt

99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man fuer UFOs aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General
Eine Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn es so war
Dabei war da am Horizont
Nur 99 Luftballons

99 Duesenjaeger
Jeder war ein grosser Krieger
Hielten sich fuer Captain Kirk
Das gab ein grosses Feuerwerk
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
Und fuehlten sich gleich angemacht
Dabei schoss man am Horizont
Auf 99 Luftballons

99 Kriegsminister
Streichholz und Benzinkanister
Hielten sich fuer schlaue Leute
Witterten schon fette Beute
Riefen: Krieg und wollten Macht
Mann, wer haette das gedacht
Dass es einmal soweit kommt
Wegen 99 Luftballons

99 Jahre Krieg
Liessen keinen Platz fuer Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt es nicht mehr
Und auch keine Duesenflieger
Heute zieh ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Truemmern liegen
Hab’ nen Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

99 Red Balloons
Nena

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 red balloons.
floating in the summer sky.
Panic bells, it’s red alert.
There’s something here from somewhere else.
The war machine springs to life.
Opens up one eager eye.
Focusing it on the sky.
Where 99 red balloons go by.

99 Decision Street.
99 ministers meet.
To worry, worry, super-scurry.
Call the troops out 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 Knights of the air
Ride super-high-tech jet fighters
Everyone’s a superhero.
Everyone’s a Captain Kirk.
With orders to identify.
To clarify and classify.
Scramble in the summer sky.
As 99 red balloons go by.

99 dreams I have had.
In every one a red balloon.
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty.
In this dust that was a city.
If I could find a souvenier.
Just to prove the world was here.
And here is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go.

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Responses

  1. Love that song! Unfortunately I have since heard the dance version. It needs to go away.

  2. hurra! Love this one!

  3. And my most recent association for this song is with… “The Wedding Singer”!

  4. I love the way you talk about your attraction to Germans and Germanic culture. That is such a gritty feeling. I can imagine how strong the pull is.

  5. Meh on the song.

    I have to say though that some of your best posts are the blurbs leading up to a song.

  6. Yet another early crush of mine. I remember being completely entranced by her on Top of the Pops. That is until she reached in the air and exposed some seriously unshaven under-arms. As a kid this was a shocking discovery at the time and was the talk of the school yard the next day. But I still continued to like both her and the song. I think she’s been doing a bit of a comeback recently.

  7. That was a terrific post! Wanna hear something funny- my great-aunt wouldn’t buy Japanese products because Pearl Harbor had made such an impact on her.

    And I had to laugh at the comment above mine- I remember when my friends and I saw that video, we were fascinated/grossed out by Nena’s hairy ol’ pits. I think that was the first time we ever saw that on TV!

    Anyway, I still like the song 🙂

  8. by the way, Wolfgang still vividly remembers that little exchange… not the type of comment that a Bavarian takes lightly… she was quite the stupid girl, though.

  9. Really enjoyed reading your associations with the song and have always been crazy about this song! I also like the punk version some band released 3-5 years ago, but my favorite is the original German. I dated a young man from Germany years ago and he got a kick out of crossover pop songs – anything he could sing to in German that I could manage to haltingly sing along with.

  10. One of my favourite songs (german version). The english translation is uh hrm –not echt. thanks for posting this!


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