Foto © Thorsten Wingenfelder

Interview with our Ambassador Kai Wingenfelder

The singer Kai Wingenfelder is among the celebrities who have supported the prevention and educational work of the Foundation with a personal statement. We are very thankful for his willingness to help the Foundation in its work to prevent hearing impairment among young people and mobilize a broad public in the cause of hearing protection. In our interview he tells about what has induced him to support the Foundation, his personal experience with tinnitus, how the music industry handles the problem, and what he expects from tinnitus research.

What has motivated you to support the Foundation?

I'm motivated by a ringing in my left ear. I got it on tour—it certainly also has to do with stress. It had never been a problem for me. Only once, many years ago, when our sound engineer himself had tinnitus and was off for two days, so that we had to interrupt the tour.

My tinnitus came together with a sudden loss of hearing. When I came off stage after the show and was walking across the festival site I noticed a shrill cheeping in my left ear. And I could hear much better with my right ear than with my left ear. The tinnitus didn't go away at once; it lasted for three days, and on the fourth it settled down a bit-I was lucky. Sometimes the ringing comes again, for example when I'm under a lot of stress. It's extremely unpleasant for me; after all I'm dependent on my hearing. I'm not only a singer but also a producer. That means I have to rely on my hearing in the studio. If my ears play up, I mucks up my life. Unfortunately, I realised this relatively late in the game, not until it was too late. Now I know what it feels like to have tinnitus; I know how it is when your hearing no longer works properly. That's my motive. That's why I'm happy to support the educational work of the German Tinnitus Foundation Charité.

Is tinnitus a problem musicians speak about openly? Have you ever been able to talk to your public about it?

I think that my public and my fans are not that interested. At the time I posted: "Friends, I have to take a break for two days." So they know about it.

Among musicians it's a relatively open matter—as far as I know. I have enough colleagues I know to have problems with their hearing. Whether they make it public or not is naturally up to them. Personally, I think it makes sense to be frank about such things. If someone is suffering from depression, for example, it’s usually wise to talk about it and not try to deal with it alone. It simply helps if you don't have to handle things all on your own. Unfortunately, this is relatively widespread.

The Foundation is present at a lot of music festivals to inform visitors on the spot about hearing protection and distribute earplugs free of charge. This is very well received. What do professional musicians like you do to protect your hearing on stage? Do you use earplugs yourself?

There are different sorts of musician. Some always wear earplugs on stage, others don't. There are musicians who are so loud on stage that their ears are going to give up the ghost sooner or later, anyway; most of them already have hearing problems—and this is the case for classical musicians, too, not only for rock musicians. In the orchestra pit this is even very widespread, especially among brass players and percussionists and everyone in their neighbourhood.

Myself, I can't work with earplugs. If I plug up my ears, I don't hear everything. At some stage or other I decided to become a musician in this line of music, and it can be a bit louder now and again. I have to live with it. But I don't have to exaggerate.

For young people, the real problem as I see it is not that they sometimes go to a loud concert. Now the biggest danger is that from childhood on they run around with their IPods pounding away in their ears. They need to be better informed about the consequences.

We fully agree with you. One of the main tasks of the Foundation is to inform people. What do you feel needs to be done to reach still more people with our prevention work?

I would like to see still more people being informed about what causes tinnitus. In my view it’s a combination of various things. With most of the people I know, it’s the combination of physical effort, loudness, and above all stress as the main factor that sooner or later leads to acute hearing loss and then tinnitus.

In Germany there is unfortunately still far too little financial support for tinnitus research. What do you expect from politics and science?

I would like to see a change in the basic principles that lead to people having so much stress. We live in an incredibly fast society. We find ourselves forced into a lifestyle that's so fast and so strenuous, we're constantly worrying about something, so that stress has now become a quite “normal” illness. People have tinnitus and burnout or overstress syndrome.

These aren't fashionable ailments but the consequences of our society taking a wrong turning. This is where we have to tackle the issue: we should think about how we can stop society from getting ever faster and higher and farther. Propagating a slight deceleration would be the best variant.

But if we go on chasing after facebook and cell phones the situation won't change. This is a social, a political problem. So I would find it good if people who don't have tinnitus concern themselves with the situation of people who do have it. We all have to understand that the way we live, the media madness that surrounds us, is wrong. We're running like lemmings at a tremendous pace—until the lemmings reach the abyss. If this can be halted, if those who still don't have tinnitus show solidarity with those who already do, then together we can change society a little bit.

Thank you for the interview.