Interview with Nena about her life and music
BY LARA VIRIOT
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)
The future may start anyplace, anywhere, anytime - or so Nena sang back in the early nineties when her songs became so popular, she had to sing them in English too. Numerous number one hits in the German charts, guest roles in film productions, voice overs and a long list of prizes and awards are the prominent cornerstones marking a lifelong career. Nena already knew as a child that she wanted to be on stage and has taken things as they come ever since. She is living in the moment and still, after four decades in show business, manages her success with her relaxed manner and familar smile on her lips. Yet she is not only Nena, German pop's most rock 'n' roll princess and icon of the 1980s and 1990s, but a true family woman and committed to promoting young talent as well. A captivating conversation with one of the greats of the music business, who regrets nothing and has not missed out on anything.
Nena, have you always wanted to be a singer?
Yes, I knew when I was five that I wanted to become a singer, or a dancer or a veterinarian.
You are one of the most influential persons in the German-speaking pop business. Looking back, how do you see the beginnings of your career in the 1980s and later 1990s?
When I had my first band when I was 17, I had no idea there was such a thing as gold records. There were four of us: a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist and a Nena. It was romantic and a bit wild also: being in the rehearsal room, playing songs from our favourite bands and dreaming about the big wide world. It was all about this special attitude towards life and about expanding your own space to live. And I never really lost this feeling, somehow it still carries me through my life.
How do you think music and the industry have changed in the last 40 years?
In the late sixties and then in the seventies music had such strong meaning. I was still a child back then but I could feel what was going on, how bands cracked open horizons of consciousness with their songs and made way for new ideas. Basically, it was about the courage to dare doing something else, to leave old paths. That's why there was such variety in music. I miss this sometimes nowadays. And also a wildness. Many artists today seem to conform very much in order to be successful. Don't get me wrong: I love success. But success is even more fun if you are daring, if you really dare to come out. It is uplifting and then inspires others too.
What was the most important thing you achieved in your life so far and why?
Well, life is not a chase. I don't see myself as someone who just runs all the time to achieve something or to arrive somewhere. Life is a process in motion and my challenge is to stay moving and to consciously live the moment. That is always my goal.
How important are your success and the awards that come with it to you?
There was a time in my life when there was an award ceremony every Friday. Open your suitcase, put in your gold record, close your suitcase. Like going to the fish market. And I appreciated that very much and still find it very beautiful. Nevertheless, I don't define success by prizes you hang on the wall or put on the shelf. Success for me means one thing: doing.
Where do you draw your creative power from? What inspires you?
The joy of what I do.
Instead of buying into luxury, you and your husband founded a school in Hamburg. What does this project mean to you?
For me, school unfortunately has always been a prison. I wanted to learn a lot at school, but then I had the same experience many children make: There is just this adult who tells you all day long what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do - so this is only about obedience but not learning. Unfortunately, this has changed little in most schools to this day. When my children reached school age, I experienced the whole thing again, this time from the perspective of a mother. At some point I was asked in an interview: "What is your dream?" And I said spontaneously: "To found a school". At that time, we got to know more and more families with kids, who were all unhappy at school. And I came into contact with children whom adults sedated with Ritalin on a daily basis, to sit still at school. What madness! I was completely shocked, and at the same time this was the spark for me to actually open a school. Our strongest motive, though, has always been our full trust in children and their basic right to develop their talents and abilities freely.
How important is your family to you?
Very important. I am infinitely grateful for my life in the extended family and that I can experience how the children of my children are growing up.
What advice would you give people who have a vision?
A clear vision needs to be manifested. So you have to do it and stay with it until the work is done.
Is there something you've always wanted to experience?
As a child I wanted to live on my own farm, and I often tried to persuade my parents to join in this dream. Despite my totally creative approach to how to make something like this a reality, they never took the bait unfortunately. I haven't let go of this dream yet though and at some point I will live in the midst of fields with goats, dogs, bees, and pigs ... and until that comes true, I will continue to live happily on the outskirts of Hamburg, where woods and meadows are not far away.
What does the future look like for you? What other plans do you have?
I just asked the oracle or stared into my crystal ball … And, yes, I saw my future: And it looks all so beautifully colourful ...
Nena was born in March 1960 under the name Gabriele Susanne Kerner and spent her childhood and youth in Breckerfeld, a town in North Rhine-Westphalia. She rose to fame in the 1980s with her hit single '99 Red Balloons'. To celebrate her anniversary of 40 years on stage, Nena is currently on tour in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Picture credit © Heiko Laschitzki / Laugh + Peas GmbH