In Memoriam: Professor Manfred Bansleben (1941-2022)

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Manfred Bansleben

The German Studies Department mourns the loss of our beloved friend and colleague, Manfred Bansleben. Manfred passed unexpectedly on December 1, 2022, after a brief bout with pneumonia, just one day before his eighty-first birthday.

For over 20 years, Manfred was the creative and organizational force behind the German Department’s highly successful language program. As German Language Program Coordinator and TA Supervisor, he trained generations of graduate student teaching assistants in pedagogical methods, developed syllabi for all our language courses, and created teaching materials for these courses, including edited films, transparencies, classroom exercises, and texts. With the help of substantial University grants, he developed the multi-media program Virtual Vienna and an innovative hybrid (in-class and on-line) German language course using Moodle programming. He initiated our successful Spring in Vienna program, which has allowed hundreds of students to study abroad in the past decades. In addition, he developed and taught advanced courses in Business German. Manfred was a tireless creator of ever-new teaching platforms: never satisfied with what he had already produced, he was constantly on the lookout for better, more relevant materials that would facilitate student learning. Exemplary for this were his efforts to integrate German film and television into language teaching. From the television drama Lindenstraße, to Edgar Reiss’s monumental TV series Heimat, to Fatih Akin’s film about the problems of Turkish-German integration Gegen die Wand, and perhaps most significantly the cinematic documentaries of East Germany and German unification, Sonnenallee and Das Leben der Anderen, Manfred exploited significant and historically relevant audio-visual materials as a way to embed language learning in an informative cultural context. Cultural history and German language learning, in short, always went hand-in-hand in the courses Manfred developed.

What constantly stands out about these classroom programs, however, is the detailed manner in which Manfred successfully integrated cultural background, vocabulary building, grammar training, and relevant classroom and out-of-class learning components into these courses. For those privileged to teach from Manfred’s materials—and teaching from them was always simultaneously learning from them—it was clear that they formed a carefully conceived, painstakingly coordinated package.

The same can be said for Manfred’s singular professional contribution to German language teaching in North America more generally: his widely implemented second-year German textbook, Perspektiven. First published by Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston in 1987, Perspektiven is comprised of three separate, carefully coordinated volumes: a cultural reader, Texte zur Kultur und Literatur; a companion review grammar, Übungen zur Grammatik; and a Laboratory Manual to accompany and supplement the reader and grammar. This textbook was widely used at colleges and universities across North America for several decades, and it is surely fair to say that Manfred and his pedagogy touched thousands of teachers and learners of German far beyond the University of Washington. He has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on German language studies. Few people know that Manfred never personally profited from the marketing success of Perspektiven: all the royalties he earned over many years were paid into a departmental fund for acquisition of materials to be used solely for teaching language and culture. Nothing better exemplifies the unstinting dedication to teaching and the selfless generosity that were part and parcel of Manfred’s life.

Many people may be surprised to know that Manfred was not trained as an applied linguist, but rather that language teaching was an avocation he developed through natural talent and years of teaching practice. Manfred spent his years of university education as a student of history at the universities of Tübingen, Bonn, and Vienna. He received his doctorate in history from Vienna in 1979, with a dissertation (and book) on the politics of Austrian reparations after the First World War (Das österreichische Reparationsproblem auf der Pariser Friedenskonferenz, Vienna: Böhlau, 1988). Characteristically, when he stood for promotion to full professor, Manfred wanted his merits to be evaluated by the same measure applied to other professors: scholarship. Hence he insisted on completing a second on-going history project before he would agree to be put forward for promotion. As department chair, I tried to convince him that the success of Perspektiven and his own renown as a teacher—Manfred won a coveted university-wide Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993—were more than sufficient to warrant recognition as full professor. But in a rare instance of intransigence, he insisted on being evaluated on his scholarly research. And amazingly, Manfred somehow found time and energy to write a second book, Von St. Germain zum Haag: Österreich und die nicht-deutschen Reparationen. Ein Beitrag zur Liquidierung des Weltkriegs im Donauraum (Vienna: Böhlau, 2007). Based on research Manfred completed in libraries and archives in Paris, London, Rome, Prague, Bonn, and Vienna, the book details the evolution of the Reconstruction Commission in Austria between 1919 and 1930.

Manfred’s teaching skills and pedagogical talents were initially honed as German instructor at the Internationales Kulturinstitut in Vienna, and subsequently as assistant professor at the University of Virginia and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he taught before joining the faculty at the University of Washington. Further evidence of Manfred’s inherent charitability and commitment to community and teaching (not that further evidence is necessary): in 2020, well after he retired from UW, Manfred collaborated with former PhD student Elisabeth Cnobloch to teach an Elementary German course to inmates at Washington Correction Center for Women, under the auspices of the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, which helps prisoners earn AA or Bachelor degrees while they are incarcerated. This project was unfortunately cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My own acquaintance with Manfred goes back over forty years, to 1979, when he arrived at the University of Virginia. I was a graduate student who was about to travel to Vienna, where I had a fellowship to write my dissertation. Having just left Vienna, Manfred generously met with me several times to provide me with information and contacts for my time in the Austrian capital. Two years later, when, as a freshly minted PhD, I returned to Virginia as a visiting instructor, I had the year-long privilege to teach diverse German language courses under Manfred’s expert guidance. That experience was career-shaping for me, as it allowed me to assimilate many of the pedagogical techniques, classroom strategies, and teaching methodologies that he propagated. Manfred was the single most important teaching mentor in my career—I share this experience with many generations of students. Indeed, I credit him and his influence for whatever successes I achieved as a German language instructor and curriculum developer as I went on to assume teaching positions at liberal arts colleges. How fortunate I felt to be able to re-gain Manfred as a colleague and mentor after I was hired at Washington! His presence in the Department contributed a particular êsprit, composed of kindness, patience, commitment to a shared educational project, innovation—especially in the implementation of new technologies for teaching—and caring mentorship.

Upon his retirement, the German Studies Department established the “Manfred Bansleben Endowment for Excellence in Graduate Teaching,” an award that is given regularly to graduate students who exhibit special achievements and facility in the German language classroom. This is a fitting tribute to Manfred and his legacy, one that will continue to honor and acknowledge into the future his contribution to the Department, to German language pedagogy, and to the profession of German Studies at large. At the request of Manfred’s family, those who wish to give gifts in his honor and memory are invited to make contributions to this Endowment. Gifts can be made online at

Rick Gray

Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus


What follows are testimonials to Manfred from former colleagues and students:

Karin Bauer: “I remember Manfred as a caring, supportive, and generous person and mentor— a life well lived that ended too soon.”

Jane Brown: “We were all truly blessed to have had such a wonderful friend and colleague for so long. He made a huge contribution to the quality of the Department in making our graduate students so desirable on the job market, and an equally huge contribution as a kind, generous, humane, patient and cultured colleague.”

Carolyn De Meyer: “My most vivid memory of Manfred was of our confrontation. It felt as serious as that sounds. Feeling overwhelmed as a new TA, I was gruff and impatient towards Manfred in class. Precisely what happened, I no longer remember. What I do remember is Manfred calling me in to his office to ask about it.  And me bursting into tears.  His courage and forthrightness as well as his kindness in the situation are something I will never forget.”

Viktoria Harms:I know I would not be where I am today without Manfred because it was him who taught me how to teach, very patiently, and even in his criticism always kind (like most of us TAs, I had never taught before, so he certainly had his work cut out for him!), and who gave me the confidence to pursue this as my career. He also was the kind of person who would always take the time to listen if you had a problem or a question, and who invited you over when you were on your own during the holidays. I feel very lucky that I had him as my teacher.”

Karin Herrmann: “Manfred Bansleben, to me, was so much more than just a professor or supervisor. He was my mentor, a friend, a "Mensch", someone to turn to with any problem, someone who supported and stood behind me every time my doubts whether academia and teaching were really the thing for me threatened to overwhelm me. He believed in me, he challenged me and he made me - I think - a good teacher.”

Bettina Matthias: “Manfred was such a wonderful mentor, educator, Mensch, he will be greatly missed. I think he was the one to teach many us of how to walk, and enabled us to then run on our own!”

Imke Meier: “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from Manfred. He was such a kind mentor, and such a lovely person. Our world will be poorer without him.”

Dorothee Ostmeier: “In my thoughts I celebrate Manfred’s amazing human integrity and wisdom as a luminary pedagogue, cultural scholar, and colleague. I am grateful that he was my colleague at Washington, modeling innovative creativity in teaching. He touched so many students' lives with his academic expertise in cultural studies, expert language pedagogy and personal investment in furthering enriching and experiential learning.”

Heidi Schlipphacke: “Manfred was, indeed, a model of integrity, and we graduate students learned so much from him. He was always so charming, such an engaged listener, and exuded happiness.”

Anke Biendarra: “Of the many wonderful professors I studied with, Manfred was one of the most influential ones. He modeled every day how one should treat one's students. He taught me so much, about teaching, pedagogy, and German and Austrian history. He was encouraging and always kind, and embodied the spirit of the department in his deep commitment to his students and colleagues.

I have many fond memories about Manfred, but what stands out are his warm presence, patience, and verschmitztes Lächeln, which I remember vividly. His legendary Kaffee & Kuchen gatherings when he and Lise would have all the TAs over to their lovely house and garden in Wedgewood where always a sweet start to another academic year. His voice mailbox at school was always full, so if you wanted something, you had to talk to him in person. When I went on the job market, he took me aside and wanted to know whether I was really prepared to start an academic career in the U.S., instead of in Germany. Did I know what the implications of that decision would be? (Turns out I didn’t!) I have thought of this countless times over the years, but never told him what an impact it had.

He and Lise were also at our wedding in May 2003, where they toasted us and celebrated with us. I will miss Manfred on this earth, but I am grateful for the many lessons he taught me. He made a difference to so many, and his teaching legacy lives on in his many students.”