The history of the Neue Deutsche Welle consists of two major parts. From its beginnings to 1981, the Neue Deutsche Welle was mostly an underground movement with roots in British punk and new wave music; it quickly developed into an original and distinct style, influenced in no small part by the different sound and rhythm of the German language which many of the bands had adapted from early on. Whilst some of the lyrics of artists like Nena and Ideal epitomized the Zeitgeist of urban West Germany during the Cold War, others used the language in a surreal way, merely playing with the sound or graphic quality of the language rather than using it to express meaning, as done by bands and artists like Spliff, Joachim Witt and Trio.
The main centers of the NDW movement during these years were Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover and Hagen as well as, to a lesser extent, the Frankfurt Rhein-Main Region, Limburg an der Lahn and Vienna (Austria).
From about 1980 on, the music industry began noticing the Neue Deutsche Welle; however, due to the idiosyncratic nature of the music, the focus shifted to creating new bands more compatible with the mainstream, rather than promoting existing bands. Many one-hit wonders and short-lived bands appeared and were forgotten again in rapid succession, and the overly broad application of the "NDW" label to these bands as well as to almost any German musicians not using English lyrics, even if their music was apparently not influenced at all by the 'original' NDW (including pure rock bands like BAP or even Udo Lindenberg) quickly led to the decay of the entire genre when many of the original musicians turned their backs in frustration.
Around 1983/1984, the era of the Neue Deutsche Welle came to an early end, following the oversaturation of the market with what was perceived as stereotypical, manufactured hits.