The woman the world knows simply as NENA was born in the small German town of Hagen in 1960 as Gabriele Susanne Kerner. But “Nena” was not simply a stage name she would assume later on. The wunderkind of the German new wave scene got the name at the age of three while on vacation with her family in Spain when the name stuck.
Always a child of rock’n’roll, NENA’s career began in her hometown at 17 as the singer of her first band, The Stripes. English was still lingua franca for pop music at the time and their first single “Ecstasy” appeared in 1979, with their self-titled debut following in 1980. The energy of the small town band was pure and simple rock’n’roll but was a playful sample of what NENA would be capable of.
After the Stripes broke up in 1981 and NENA moved to West Berlin with Stripes’ drummer Rolf Brendel, she formed her eponymous band NENA with Brendel, Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, Carlo Karges and Jürgen Dehmel. Along with a band change, came a language change as well. NENA’s songs were from then on sung in German – at that time relatively new for pop, new wave and rock music in Germany. In May of 1982, the band performed their first single “Nur geträumt” (“Just a Dream”) on German music TV program Musikladen and sold 40,000 copies of the single within one day. NENA became the biggest name in German new wave in little over a heartbeat.
But It was their second single “99 Luftballons” that pushed NENA out of West Germany and into the wider world. The German-language hit struck a chord everywhere it landed, securing a number one spot in the US Cashbox charts, as well as top chart spots in Europe, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Australia.
The two singles proved no fluke and their first two albums Nena and ? (Fragezeichen) (Question Mark) were smash hits making them the poster children of German new wave and opening up the rest of the world’s eyes not only to NENA but Germany’s music scene in general.
The English version of “99 Luftballons”, known as “99 Red Balloons”, hit #1 in the UK and held there fast for four weeks, two English-language albums (99 Luftballons and It’s All In the Game) from the band followed and then almost endless world touring. But their meteoric rise to fame, paired with the endless touring and the demands of the media began to wear on the band and soon after their fourth record the band quietly split up. To this day, “99 Luftballons” remains the most successful German-language song in international pop history.
After the band split, NENA starred in German film Der Unsichtbare (The Invisible) in 1987 where she met Swiss actor Benedict Freitag. In 1988, their first son Christopher Daniel was born, but sadly suffered a brain injury during birth. He tragically died 11 months later. Working through her grief, NENA released her first solo record Wunder Gescheh’n (Miracles Happen), released in 1989. A single of the same name was released and just three days later the world saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. NENA, again pregnant, sung the appropriately titled “Wunder Gescheh’n” as the final song before midnight at the legendary Concert for Berlin on November 12, 1989.
In April of 1990 her twins Larissa and Sakias were welcomed into the world. At the same time NENA released her first children’s record “Komm lieber Mai…” (Come dear May…) showcasing classic children songs with a NENA twist. The album went gold.
NENA and Benedict Freitag broke up in 1992 and shortly after NENA met drummer and producer Philipp Palm with whom she had two children: Samuel in 1995 and Simeon in 1997.
But even with four children NENA remained NENA and every two to three years released a new album, landing in the German charts each time.
At the beginning of the new millennium NENA released the single “Oldschool Baby”, sung half in English, half in German, with legendary techno-DJ and Love Parade-stalwart Westbam, giving NENA yet another club hit. The single’s video took home the prize for video of the year from the German Dance Awards.
Twenty years after the start of her monumental career, NENA reached a new zenith. In 2002, she celebrated the musical anniversary by releasing Nena feat. Nena – reaching number one in the Austrian charts and number two in the German. Among several hits, her duet with British singer Kim Wilde (“Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime”) was a success well beyond the German-language speaking countries, and the album as a whole went on to receive multiple gold and platinum certifications. The video for the new version of NENA’s very first single, “Nur geträumt”, was then recorded in legendary New York punk club CBGB’s.
In October 2005 NENA released her autobiography Willst du mit mir gehen (Will You Go With Me?) and landed promptly at #3 on Germany’s top bestseller list. The album of the same name achieved multiple gold status and the single “Liebe ist” (Love Is) found her another number one in the charts. Her stadium tour to support the record sold out city after city.
In 2009, the record Made In Germany followed. The album and its single “In meinem Leben” (In My Life) put NENA back at the top of the German charts just in time for her 50th birthday. Another record, Du bist gut (You Are Good), in 2012 brought NENA gold once more.
But NENA’s career in pop music isn’t the only field that’s kept her busy. The singer lends her voice to more than just music – frequently to several beloved children’s films including Eragon, Arthur and the Invisibles, Peter Pan 2 and many more. Making records for children also remains important to NENA – she’s recorded nine in total to the date (most recently a 2014 concept album in which children learn the multiplication tables through her hits). In 2007 she co-founded the Neue Schule Hamburg (New Hamburg School) with her partner Philipp Palm and in 2008 she founded her own record label Laugh + Peas, realizing a new artistic freedom and independence for herself and her work. Shortly thereafter NENA helped launch the German edition of The Voice, sitting in the female coach chair for the first three seasons and instantly making it the most successful music format show on German television.
Music is and remains for NENA a family affair – not only with her partner Philipp Palm who handles a large share of the production, but NENA’s children are writing pop history along with her as they share the stage with their mom on tour.
With her most recent record Oldschool (2015) NENA adeptly bridges past and present. Produced by German Hip-Hop giant Sammy Deluxe, NENA merged her signature sound with electro beats, mirroring the marriage of styles with lyrics that deal with the passage of time. The video for “Berufsjugendlich” (Professionally Young) was shot in SO36 – Berlin’s equivalent to CBGB’s and NENA’s punk playground in the early 1980s – bringing things full circle for the singer. NENA was never one to stand still and that still applies today: with her 30+ year career (and showing no signs of stopping), her loyal fan base, over 25 million records sold and success in her own language abroad, NENA as a singer and songwriter remains something completely inimitable – in Germany, and worldwide.
That’s proven all over again in 2018 as NENA embarks on her “Nichts Versäumt Tour 2018: 40 Years on Stage”, celebrating an ongoing career of hits reaching all the way back to her STRIPES years through today, taking her fans on the most epic of journeys. And she’s adding one more hit to her repertoire. In 2018, she and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, two rebels of the pop-rock world, released their explosive single “Be My Rebel!”, inviting fans to join their rebellion. Celebrating forty years on stage doesn.