Gabriele Susanne Kerner, better known by her stage name Nena, achieved her first musical success in 1984 with the New German Wave song "99 Luftballons," re-recorded in English as "99 Red Balloons." "Nena" was also the name of her band.
Gabriele was born in Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany. She spent the earliest part of her childhood in Breckerfeld and later lived in Hagen. She acquired her nickname, based on the Spanish word "nena" (colloquial for "niña"), or "little girl," at the age of three, while on a vacation to Spain with her parents. She left high school in 1977 before graduation, and for three years trained as a goldsmith.
Her musical career began in the summer of 1979 when guitarist Rainer Kitzmann offered her a position as the lead singer in his band, The Stripes. The group had a minor hit with the song "Ecstasy," and disbanded.
In 1981 Nena and her then-boyfriend Rolf Brendel moved to West Berlin, where they met future band members, guitarist Carlo Karges, keyboard player Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, and bass player Jürgen Dehmel. Together they formed the band "Nena."
In 1982 "Nena" released their first single, "Nur geträumt" ("Only dreamt,") which became an instant hit in Germany after the band appeared on the German television show Musikladen. The single reportedly sold 40,000 copies the day after the song appeared on the show and reached number two in the German charts.
In 1983 the band released its first album Nena, which contained the singles "Leuchtturm" ("Lighthouse") and "99 Luftballons," which became a number-one hit in Germany in 1983 and went on to major international chart success the following year. The English version hit number one in the UK and the original German version hitting number two in the US. To this day it is one of the most well-known German rock songs in many parts of the world.
Although "99 Luftballons" was Nena's only hit in the English-speaking world, the band continued to enjoy success in several European countries in the following years. The band split in 1987, and Nena went solo thereafter.
Throughout the 1990s, Nena released a wide range of solo albums, a number of them consisting of songs for children. Simultaneously, she hosted several TV shows, including Metro and Countdown Grand Prix, the German preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest, in 1998.
In 2002 Nena celebrated her 20th anniversary on stage with the album Nena feat, consisting of newly arranged recordings of her hits from the 1980s. The album spawned a number of successful chart entries. The remake of "Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime" as an English-German duet with Kim Wilde was a hit in various European countries, reaching the Number 1 spot in the Netherlands and Austria, and Number 3 in Germany, in 2003.
Her 2005 album Willst du mit mir gehn ("Do You Wanna Go with Me?") quickly achieved platinum status. The first single from the album, "Liebe ist" ("Love Is"), reached number 1 on the German charts in early 2005, and was the theme song for a German telenovela, Verliebt in Berlin.
Nena released a new single in September 2009, called "Wir sind wahr," and a new album that year, Made In Germany. She has developed an interest in the teachings of Indian mystic Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) in recent years, and practises his meditation methods, an impression of which is featured in the "Wir sind wahr" video. She also collaborated with the popular techno-rap artists Die Atzen to produce a new single, "Strobo Pop."
Besides her singing career, Nina has also voiced the character Saphira for the German dub of the movie Eragon and the role of the Princess for the German version of Arthur and the Invisibles alongside Tokio Hotel's Bill Kaulitz.
Nena wrote an autobiography with journalist Claudia Thesenfitz, Willst du mit mir gehn (Do you want to go with me?) Most of Thesenfitz's contributions are excerpts from interviews of many of Nena's friends, co-workers, and relatives.