London, music, Play

99 red balloons, girlfriends and feeling at home in a garage

Remember the song 99 red balloons? Aged eight, I would secretly hum the melody I had heard somewhere on the radio. It was unthinkable to tune away from Classic FM at home, let alone ask to be bought the track. My pianist-turned-music-teacher mother vividly disapproved of contemporary music and condemned everything that wasn’t Grieg or Rachmaninoff as newfangled, proletarian schlock.

Facing the band last night and jumping up and down like a guinea pig on speed, I revelled in what I would call a delayed pre-pubertal rebellion. A mere 26 years after the song was initially released I was finally able to stand up and say: Yes, I think NENA is cool. (By the way, isn’t it funny how memory works – I have never owned a NENA song but was able to sing along to 90% of the lyrics.)

You might ask what kind of self-discovery trip into the past brought me to a North London venue called The Garage on a Monday night. It certainly was a trip into the past, as I hadn’t seen my friend Virginia in seven years. She is a singer herself and toured as a backing singer with NENA during the past two months.

So whilst Ginni was singing on stage, I bathed in the crowd and was almost carried away by an overwhelming sense of feeling at home and belonging. I had a quick chat in German with a girl in the toilets and she hugged me as we said goodbye. Two NENA fans on a NENA concert somewhere in London. Despite me not being an explicit NENA fan. I am not even German.

Maybe I realised how much I miss my girlfriends. Of course, it’s great to meet new people. But sometimes it’s greater to be with the ones who know you long and good enough to give you a hug and a smile that make seven years feel like seven days.

The song that made me re-think my NENA fan status:


  1. I always liked that song!

    New people are lovely and can become old friends but there’s not substitute for the ones who know you best

  2. Isn’t it funny, the things that can make you feel suddenly homesick, even when you’ve lived somewhere for years? In my case, bizarrely, it was seeing those London park railings that made me realise how much I wanted to go home. Hope you don’t leave though!

  3. …..floating in the Summer sky….., oh I loved that song, brings back a million memories.

    B xxx

  4. That’s awesome, I’ve always loved that song and can even sing a couple of line is German (or think I can when I’ve had a drink!!) Hurrah for old friends!!!

  5. Popped over to yours from a mutual friend, wow I love that Nena song and yes I can sing it in German too, or rather I could when I was 14 studying German with Mr Summers. I’m so stuck in the 80s…. – HMx

  6. Oh yes, the soundtack of my awakening youth, I was just learning about being a girl!

  7. Wow – 99 red balloons just takes me straight back to my school disco days with big hair and bigger shoulder pads

  8. Over here, of course, it’s the German version that is the well-known one and played at parties.

  9. This sounds like enormous fun, I can almost picture you jumping around and singing along to all the songs, and it is great to spend time with old friends it can be so revitalising. 99 Red balloons is now humming in my head xx

  10. I remember it very well, number 1 in the UK for ages. Go on give us the German lyrics: neun und neunzig luftballoone? Is that right?

  11. I loved that song. And I also miss my old friends, which actually I just seen in Brazil.
    To old and new friends.

  12. I remember first seeing NENA perform on Top of the Pops. Loved the song then, but I think more comments were made about the length of her underarm hair than anything else !!!

  13. I love love love that song! Both the German and English versions. It’s on my ipod in my Awesome 80s playlist. Yes, I’m a huge dork and I don’t care who knows it! 🙂

  14. That was one of the first singles I ever bought. I still have it, somewhere around the place. Might even frame it. Totally agree about the friend thing, and lucky you being out and about ‘moshing’.

  15. Fantastic! Glad you enjoyed it – theres something about dancing about down the front at a concert. Love it x

  16. That sounds like so much fun MM! So glad you enjoyed yourself. Last night was lovely, thanks for inviting me! J-Lo is gorgeous and her lip gloss is always so perfect:)
    lol LZ

  17. Yeah I remember in the 80s Nena caused outrage amongst my school pals for showing her hairy pits. I of course was used to all that having visited the hairy austrians many times – I mean I’m not even sure if people in Germany and Austria even started shaving pits/legs until the fall of the Berlin Wall

    Do tell did she still have the spectacular hairy pits??

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