There is a lot of catching up to do when it comes to accessibility on German stages. Felix Brückner, the singer of the Hamburg rock band FHEELS, denounces this. And he should know: The musician has been in a wheelchair since an accident when he was a teenager. He is "worn on 95 percent of the stages," says Brückner in an interview with spot on news. The singer speaks openly about his life in a wheelchair, including the supposedly taboo subject of sexuality and disability. Nevertheless, it was a "year-long process" to accept his disability - "and sometimes it still is". For him, the band FHEELS, which will release their debut album "Lotus" on April 1st, is "lived inclusion".
Your debut album is en titled "Lotus". What does the lotus flower mean to you?
Felix Brückner: Among other things, the lotus stands for purity. Purity, which also characterizes our songs in their peculiarities. They are the result of four musicians who never aspired to become commercially successful, but primarily to write songs that they like. "Lotus" is therefore the classic first album that has not yet been influenced much from outside and is therefore characterized by the purity of the creative ideas far removed from the mainstream.
The album will be released on April 1st - a suitable date? Have you included an April Fool's joke?
Brückner: We actually thought about it, but we couldn't think of a really good joke.
What inspires you to write your lyrics?
Brückner: It is often assumed that the focus of the lyrics must be on my disability. In my opinion, this is due to the social image of people with disabilities - the assumption that the reality of life for disabled people is shaped exclusively by dealing with this very disability. Our everyday life, our needs, desires and emotions revolve around exactly the same things: love, sex, self-discovery, social criticism, being happy and sad, and they are therefore my inspiration.
"Phil the Beggar" is about breaking out of the social norm. How does this topic affect you personally?
Brückner: I often deal with the question of whether my behavior is of an intrinsic nature or whether I am once again being driven by the definitions of value and worthlessness that are often shaped by the media. For example, why I can't ignore the fact that the majority of society sees my life as a musician as a job that shouldn't be taken seriously, as long as thousands of screaming people don't cheer me on at concerts or I fly from gig to gig in a private jet.
Regarding my disability, there were phases in my youth in particular when I wasn't able to deal with it as confidently as I do now. I have tried to conceal everything that does not correspond to the reality of life and the appearance of able-bodied people. I remember very well how much I liked driving a car myself - with hand throttle and automatic transmission - because nobody could tell at first glance that I was handicapped. The image of the strong, masculine man, the hunter and gatherer, the provider, has often occupied me with regard to the acceptance of my disability and masculinity.
Your song "Sharp Dressed Animal" deals with the subject of sexuality and disability. Why is this still a taboo subject?
Brückner: The problem is the social image of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the image of the self-determined and self-confident disabled person who is active, strong, full of life and also sexual is missing. Unfortunately, this lack of visibility leads to things being perceived as abnormal or "special" when they simply aren't.
You also shot a very erotic music video for it. Did that cost you?
Brückner: Definitely, both to show my own body in this form and to be so intimate with a largely unknown woman. However, Laura Ehrich's experience and professionalism helped me a lot.
Many concerts are now barrier-free - at least for visitors. What's it like on stage and in the rehearsal rooms?
Brückner: I would say from my own experience that not many concerts are barrier-free. Looking at Hamburg, for example, I can spontaneously think of a maximum of a handful of clubs that can at least partially call themselves barrier-free. It is also important not to associate the concept of disability only with wheelchair users, because then the need to catch up becomes even more obvious.
Nevertheless, it is true that it is often the guest area that is designed to be barrier-free, because there are no disabled musicians. That's why I'm carried on 95 percent of the stages. Rehearsal rooms are generally in short supply, barrier-free ones even more so.
What role does the wheelchair play in the band? Is that even an issue?
Brückner: The band is a good example of inclusion. The wheelchair and my disability were present from the beginning and became normal through the daily interaction. Outside of interviews, not much is said about it, you know each other and your needs, little help is part of everyday life and the focus of cooperation is friendship, music and everyday topics.
This normality in the coexistence of people with and without disabilities, this completely automatic change of perspective, is unfortunately missing in society and is the reason why we are still a long way from the inclusion of people with disabilities.
What causes you the most limitations in everyday life - as a musician, but also as a private person?
Brückner: The biggest limitation, as mentioned above, is the social image of dependent, needy, unhappy and withdrawn people with disabilities. You are exposed to this image every day and I hope that I never lose the motivation lose the desire to change anything. This image ensures that in many places, with a view to culture, but also far beyond that, the need to make something barrier-free is not seen. This means that neither the kiosk around the corner nor the guest and certainly not the artist area in the club will become more barrier-free in the future.
It's no different in everyday life: When I meet new people or a woman specifically, I usually first have to explain that it's not as bad as she thinks. If you then decide to enter into a relationship, she is also confronted with the prejudices and stigmata: "You must then help a lot", "The sex thing is difficult, isn't it?", "Is that even possible ?", "Do you have to take him everywhere and pick him up?", "Well, I couldn't do that", "You have my greatest respect for that". This is how my partner becomes an enlightener because friends and family don't dare to ask me themselves.
People deal with disabilities differently. How would you like to be treated by others?
Brückner: Quite normal, just like every other person in this world, regardless of disability, skin color, nationality, faith and gender identity, should be treated.
What else needs to be done to increase visibility?
Brückner: Accessibility is the absolute basis for visibility. Without them it is simply not possible for us to become visible, to participate in a self-determined manner and to feel welcome, comfortable and safe. We not only talk about the steps and toilets in the club, but also in advance, for example, about barrier-free communication. Is it at all possible for visually impaired or blind people to get information about an event or is it impossible to read the homepage with a screen reader?
Barrier-free arrival is often a major problem. If we now cast our eyes from guests to artists with disabilities, a much greater deficit becomes clear. A socio-political change of direction must take place, with the help of which private-sector, legal obligations to accessibility are introduced.
After your accident, was it difficult for you to find self-love or self-acceptance again?
Brückner: Without a doubt. I was 16, in the middle of puberty and finding my identity as a man, in the midst of the development of sexuality and was confronted with spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. From one day to the next, I no longer felt two thirds of my body and had to relearn normal things like sitting. Without the support of my family, good therapists and the realization that at some point I would be able to lead my life completely independently, I might not have mastered this biggest challenge of my life so far.
Accepting my disability was a process that took years and sometimes still is. But I had to make the decision very quickly to face it and continue, and fortunately I did. Encounters with people with much more serious disabilities, who radiated so much strength, willpower and joie de vivre and made me want to bury my head in the sand with the feeling of "Who are you, Felix, now?" were also great inspiration and motivation. left behind.
Have you ever thought about leaving music after the accident? If yes, what prevented you?
Brückner: No, because it was only a few years after my accident and the completion of my first degree that I decided to make music professionally. Rather, I did not allow myself to be prevented by the assessment of my ENT doctor and the terrifically unsuccessful first entrance exam.
You are active in the initiative “Barrier-Free Celebrations” and advise, among other things, the Wacken Open Air. What has already been implemented through your advice?
Brückner: First of all, it is important to us in our work to create sensitivity to the topic. Unless there is an inner need for organizers to support the participation of people with disabilities, anything else is not sustainable. On this basis, we develop joint strategies for the implementation of accessibility, starting with barrier-free communication and arrival to parking spaces, path structures, barrier-free gastronomy, camping, sanitary facilities as well as inclusive booking and staffing.