99 Red Balloons: pop as a protest

Nena’s 1983 smash hit 99 Red Balloons is a reliable staple of every 1980s compilation CD and the soundtrack to many a drunken wedding disco. Yet its catchy-like-a-cold hooks belie a more serious political message.

The song was inspired by a trip to a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin, 1982. Nena’s guitarist Carlo Karges witnessed balloons (unspecified in number) being released as part of the…