9 international music hits by German artists
When you think of influential international music artists, your mind probably drifts towards the US, the UK, or perhaps even Puerto Rico, Spain and Columbia. Germany probably isn't very high up on many people's lists.
However, despite being much better known for classical music than popular music, Germans have actually made a bigger contribution to the modern music industry than you might think, especially when it comes to dance music and Germany’s beloved techno. Here are nine truly talented German musicians that made it big abroad with these international hits.
1. 99 Luftballons - NENA
This ultimate German classic, written by the German band NENA, is often one of the first songs people list when they are asked about German music. The hit, which was also translated into English and re-recorded as 99 Red Balloons, gained fame across the world for its catchy lyrics and Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) style. Nena, the lead singer of the band, re-released many of their songs as a solo artist and over the years since has sold over 25 million records, making her the most successful pop singer in German chart history.
Video: YouTube / NENA
2. Everytime We Touch - Cascada
Back in 2005, Cascada took the world by storm with Everytime We Touch, an energetic dance tune that still promises to get everyone up on their feet! In 2010, the band became the second-most downloaded dance artist in the world, only just behind dance legend David Guetta. Cascada later released Evacuate the Dancefloor, a successful international hit, and went on to represent Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö in 2013.
Video: YouTube / CASCADA
3. Trans Europa Express - Kraftwerk
Legends in both German culture and dance music, Kraftwerk first came into the public eye in the early 1970s and set the stage for modern-day electronic music artists. While Trans Europa Express is often regarded as one of the band’s most successful songs, the group have had a number of internationally popular hits such as Das Model, Computer Love, Autobahn and Tour de France.
Video: YouTube / crifox16
4. Major Tom (Coming Home) - Peter Schilling
Unofficially based on Major Tom, the protagonist of David Bowie's 1969 song Space Oddity, this was Peter Schilling’s most internationally successful song. Major Tom topped the chart in Germany, Austria and Switzerland when it was first released in 1983. The song was re-released in English a few months after its initial German release, and made it to number one in Canada, number four in South Africa and number two on the US dance chart.
Video: YouTube / Peter Schilling
5. Du Hast - Rammstein
Rock legends Rammstein definitely deserve to be included in this list. With a number of internationally popular songs, Rammstein is one of the most successful German bands to make waves abroad. Du Hast was the second song on the band’s second album, and was featured in a number of movies and video games released in the years after the song’s release in 1997. For those learning German, you'll notice the song's title is a play on the words “du hasst” (you hate) and “du hast” (you have).
Video: YouTube / Rammstein Official
6. Satellite - Lena
Lena also has a Eurovision connection, winning the song contest for Germany in 2010 with this number. Lena, known also by her full name Lena Meyer-Landrut, was born and raised in Lower Saxony and often receives praise online for her success despite a relatively ordinary background as a Hanover native, with no formal training in vocals. Her song Satellite clocked in over 100.000 downloads in its first week, becoming Germany's fastest-selling digital release ever.
7. Wind of Change - Scorpions
This rock ballad by the Scorpions is widely associated with the fall of the Wall in Berlin, but it wasn't actually released until January 1991, over a year later, just after the failed coup that eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Union. Eventually becoming an anthem for the end of the Cold War, Wind of Change is now one of the bestselling singles of all time, with its sentiments of hope and peace making it relevant time and again in new waves of political upheaval. In 2022, lead singer Klaus Meine said that he changed the lyrics to no longer "romanticise Russia" in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
Video: YouTube / Scorpions
8. Mambo No. 5 - Lou Bega
After spending some time in Miami in his late teens, David Lubega - known better by his stage name Lou Bega - a native of Munich, developed a taste for mambo, and in 1999 released his megahit Mambo No. 5, a reworking of a 1949 Cuban jazz dance song by Dámaso Pérez Prado. Bega's song became the hit of the summer, topping the charts across Europe and further afield, and earning him a Grammy nomination. Unfortunately, it was a success he was unable to repeat with any of his later tracks.
Video: YouTube / Lou Bega Official
9. Forever Young - Alphaville
Although only a moderate success when it was first released in 1984, Forever Young has gone on to be one of this German synth-pop band's most enduring songs, still appearing on playlists around the world today. Alphaville's classic has been covered multiple times over the years, including by the Australian band Youth Group for the hit US show The O.C, by British singer Becky Hill, and sampled on the Jay-Z song Young Forever.
Video: YouTube / RHINO
Other honourable German music mentions
Other honourable mentions go to the German-Russian dance music king Zedd, as well as rock band Tokio Hotel, who have both seen huge levels of success over their careers. Check out the official German music chart for some of this week’s most popular German hits.