In the mid-1980s, even people living in the United States, England, and other English-speaking Western countries knew Nena. The petite German singer re-recorded her 1983 hit “99 Luftballons” in English as 1984’s “99 Red Balloons.” With the translated track she had an international hit on her hands that introduced her outside of the German language music world.
The Neue Deutsche Welle was making waves around the world. Literally, the “New German Wave,” was a genre of German music with roots in punk and rock that started in the late ’70s and early ’80s. With her charming pop appeal and German lyrics, German language learners can practice and get rocking with Nena.
Get to Know Nena
Nena was born Gabriele Susanne Kerner on March 24, 1960, in Hagen, West Germany. Her nickname was a souvenir, so to speak, from a vacation to Spain; Nena is Spanish for “little girl.”
But school wasn’t for the young woman. After the eleventh class, she left school. At the insistence of her parents, she started an apprenticeship as a goldsmith. But Nena never completed the apprenticeship either. Instead, it was music that was calling her name.
In the late 1970s, she met guitar player Rainer Kitzmann in a disco. Kitzmann offered to let her sing in his band, The Stripes. “Stranges,” the group’s first single was released in 1979 with a self-titled album following in 1980.
But by 1981 the band had parted ways.
The Music of Nena
In 1982, Nena became more than just a person. It also became the name of a band. The singer was joined by Carlos Karges (guitar), Jürgen Dehmel (bass), Rolf Brendel (drums), and Jörn-Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (keyboards).
In Germany, the group saw success almost immediately thanks to the opportunity to perform their debut single “Nur geträumt” on television. In 1983, “99 Luftballons,” a poppy anti-war anthem, helped them capture a moment.
The group released four albums in as many years: 1983’s Nena, 1984’s ?, 1985’s Feuer und Flamme, and 1986’s Eisbrecher. The first three were huge hits, topping the charts in not only Germany but also in Europe.
There were also a pair of albums targeted for international audiences: 1984’s 99 Luftballons and 1985’s It’s All in the Game. While these two albums are not the best options for German-language learners to use for practice, any fan of Nena will want to give them a spin.
99 Luftballons is a compilation using tracks from Nena and ?. The first five songs on the album (also known as the A-Side) are English translations of the original German songs while the B-Side is made up of the original German tunes.
The second international album is actually a full English-language version of Feuer und Flamme.
But by Eisbrecher, the momentum was beginning to fade.
Nena released her first solo album in 1989. Wunder gescheh’n saw moderate success, peaking at number 23 on the German charts for the year. To date, twelve solo albums have followed.
In 2002, she released Nena feat. Nena. The album, celebrating her twentieth year in music, sees the singer celebrate some of her most popular songs with new versions. Among the tracks are duets with musicians like Udo Lindenberg.
The album was a big hit. And the pop singer has seen a big resurgence since then. 2005’s Willst du mit mir gehn, 2007’s Cover Me, 2009’s Made in Germany, 2012’s Du bist gut, 2015’s Oldschool and 2020’s Licht have followed to critical and commercial success.
With nearly twenty albums, Nena shows no signs of slowing down.
Looking for another Ohrwurm to help you learn German? Check out previously featured musicians and bands!
Photo from her official Facebook page. This post contains affiliate links.