Friday, December 7, 2012

Songs from the Cold War #4: Balloons and UFOs

Germany has been at the center of world conflicts for at least a century, and the beginning of the Cold War was no different.  When it was divided up after WWII, it was split not only into East and West Germany, but the capital Berlin – which was located within East Germany – was split into four different sectors (American, British, French, and Soviet).  And one of the more dramatic post-war events occurred when the Soviets imposed a blockade (in an attempt to take over all of Berlin) and the West responded with the Berlin Airlift, and we ended up with one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall.  So, you might say Germans were living at the epicenter of the Cold War, and when the guitarist for the German band Nena watched balloons at a concert in West Berlin float away he wondered what might happen if faulty Soviet radar equipment mistook them for something else.  With thousands of missiles pointed at each other it wasn't just an idle worry that a small misunderstanding could trigger a bigger event, and the song "99 Luftballons" imagines a war set off by something as insignificant as balloons.  Of course, unless you spoke German you wouldn't really know that until the English version, "99 Red Balloons" came out.

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