“‘Uncle’ Manfred von Leiber, a confirmed bachelor whose hair had turned prematurely grey at the age of thirty, was a handsome, robust and genial individual with a sharp and incisive wit… It was von Leiber who had instilled in von Menen his love for the sea, taught him how to sail, explained the complexities of terrestrial navigation and instructed him in the use of nautical instruments. It was a very special relationship.”
Manfred von Leiber is a Vice Admiral of the German Navy, based at U-Boat Headquarters in Bernau, but he is first and foremost a close and trusted friend of the von Menen family.
There are many parallels with Hans Steiger, in that he is treated as one of the family and is a trusted source of support and advice for both Carl and the General. But whereas Hans is energetic with a heroic past, Manfred is a steady person who is content to stay low-profile. He has discreet conversations with Jürgen Lanze about naval operations, and there is a great deal of respect between the two men.
During the course of the novel, Manfred proposes to Eva Schilling, who is something of a celebrity and as glamorous as he is pedestrian. They complement each other beautifully as a couple, and towards the end of the novel they gain a rare moment of happiness in the midst of the fear and uncertainty of 1944:
“The proceedings at Lübeck’s Marriage Registry Office were as discreet and as private as Eva and Manfred could have wished for. Back at the house, a joyous surprise was in store for the newlyweds when Katrina and Jürgen asked them if they would be godparents to the baby Katrina was expecting in March.”
After Christmas, the two go their separate ways: Eva sets out for Lake Konstanz whilst Manfred attempts to reach his 91-year-old mother, who lives in Marienburg which the Russians are fast advancing towards. Manfred loses touch with the von Menens, and by the end of the novel his fate is unknown.