Conference Paper

“The Attack on the Bauhaus”

A Collage that Became a Symbol of the Closure of the Bauhaus

Kokusai-Kenchiku (国際建築), Vol. 8, No. 12, Tokyo,
December 1932, pp. 270–272, pp. 272.
Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, © Yamawaki Iwao & Michiko Archives.

For the Yamawaki couple, their studies at the Dessau Bauhaus ended with the closure of the Dessau site. Iwao’s luggage for his return home also included his collage Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus. It was first published in the architecture magazine Kokusai kenchiku in December 1932. Iwao let the collage speak for itself, publishing it without comment.

In Yamawaki Iwao’s famous collage Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus (The Attack on the Bauhaus), three men march from the upper right corner into the center of the picture. The energetic striding, the sound of boot heels can be almost heard, because two of the three wear boots and uniforms. The head of the third man is cropped, so it may well be that even more men will burst into the scene. The first man in uniform, who has nearly arrived in the middle of the picture is similar in appearance (and may well be) SA Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm (1887–1934), who was appointed in 1931. In his left hand he holds an object that may be a whip, riding crop or iron rod. This object has probably been collaged into the hand, as the colors of the person and the object differ slightly from each other. The second man is dressed in civilian clothes, with a hat and a dark coat, and a briefcase clamped under his left arm. The striking upturned moustache, round glasses and short neck unmistakably belong to Alfred Hugenberg (1865–1951), a successful media mogul of the 1920s and 1930s, who owned the Hugenberg Group and Scherl-Verlag (magazine and newspaper publisher), and was instrumental in developing the media strategies that brought Hitler to power. Röhm (let us assume here that it is Röhm) looks to the left and Hugenberg’s gaze is directed straight towards the viewer. Together they seem to have the scene completely under control.

The three men march across the facade of the Dessau Bauhaus, which bisects the picture diagonally from the lower edge upwards and out to the right. The glass facade of the workshop building, as well as the south view with its iconic vertical lettering spelling out “Bauhaus” in capital letters, have fallen over but remain interlocked and now serve the three men as a stage. Further back on the glass façade, a group of men in uniform and with swastika armbands march determinedly towards the left, filmed by a cameraman. A platoon four rows deep stand at attention, their ranks stretching back to the picture’s horizon line, ready for action. The end of the deployment is not in sight. The back rows look as if they may have been drawn by hand. The first victims of the conflict are already scattered in the upper left corner of the picture, crumpled on the ground (a single figure is looking up as if injured). They wear light-colored clothing, clearly different from the men in uniform and, when viewed closely, resemble children in their proportions.

At the bottom left side of the picture, close to the viewer, four young people—a woman and three men—protrude into the scene. They are dressed in blouses or shirts and suit jackets, and make an angry impression. Their mouths are open and they appear to be shouting. One of the men clenches his right fist. This grouping are superimposed with another photograph—the four floors of balconies of the Bauhaus studio building, photographed from a bird’s-eye view. On each of the balconies stands a Bauhäusler.

The overall effect of the picture is that of a theater scene, one anticipating an approaching catastrophe. Shortly before the end, the curtain falls and the viewer is left alone with the end as yet uncertain.

The scene described takes place on a sepia-colored collage, whose format is slightly smaller than DIN A3 (28.8 x 38.5 cm). The collage was designed in 1932 by Yamawaki Iwao, a Japanese architect who studied at the Bauhaus in the early 1930s, shortly before it was closed by National Socialist authorities.

An Architect whose Most Famous Work is a Collage: Yamawaki Iwao

Yamawaki Iwao studied with his wife Michiko at the Bauhaus in Dessau from the winter semester of 1930 to the summer semester of 1932. When Iwao began his studies at the Bauhaus, he had already completed his architectural studies at what was then called Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (Tokyo Art Academy), and had also had four years of professional experience as a technical draughtsman in the Yokogawa architectural office in Tokyo. Although the Yokogawa office was known at the time for its technically innovative approach and challenging projects in Tokyo, Iwao was on the lookout for new impulses. When the then 30-year-old Iwao agreed in 1928 to an arranged wedding with the wealthy Yamawaki Michiko, who was 12-year younger, he made a deal with his future father-in-law. Iwao took the family name Yamawaki and in return received financial support to study abroad, at the Bauhaus in Dessau. This is how Iwao and Michiko found themselves traveling to Germany in 1930.

Despite his prior studies and professional experience in Japan, both Iwao and Michiko (who had no previous training in art or design) attended the preparatory courses of Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky before enrolling in Mies van der Rohe’s architecture class in the second year. The couple wrote enthusiastically about the teaching methods of Albers and Kandinsky. But even though his primary focus was on architecture, there is comparatively little information in Iwao’s notes concerning Mies van der Rohe’s course. Nor is there a record of drafts, plans or models made by Iwao during his time at the Bauhaus. Instead, numerous photographs have been preserved: portraits of Bauhäuslers, snapshots documenting everyday life at the Bauhaus, architectural photographs, micrographs, and collages.

In his reports, which Iwao wrote for Japanese media, and in his correspondence with an addressee (unknown to us today) in Japan, Iwao described his impression of the Bauhaus. In one letter Iwao sent on December 21, 1930, he wrote briefly about purchasing a large camera, which was used intensively afterwards. Kawahata Naomichi, who in 1995 wrote Michiko’s biography, described Iwao as a meticulous recorder (記録魔) of his environment.

During his studies at the Bauhaus, Iwao became friends with Kurt Kranz (1910–1997). This friendship was to last even after the two men’s studies, despite the great geographical distance between them. Kranz was not only a friend, Iwao’s collages show that he was inspired by his work. A trained lithographer prior to coming to the Bauhaus, Kranz was active at the Bauhaus in, among other things, the advertising workshop of Joost Schmidt and the photography class of Walter Peterhans. Iwao also went in and out of these classes. In a letter Iwao sent to Japan on 24 March 1931, he wrote about both departments, expressing a wish that a Japanese designer might come to the Bauhaus to study these subjects intensively for two to three years.

Already since his first studies in Tokyo Iwao had a passion for theater, especially for stage set design. In 1926 he had become a member of the avant-garde artist group Tanisanka (単位三科), a group that not only discussed art and architecture but also staged plays, designing and building their own stage sets. With one exception Tanisanka consisted mainly of young architects—Nakada Sadanosuke (仲田定之助 1888–1970), who together with Ishimoto Kikuji (石本喜久治 1894–1963) were the first Japanese people to visit the Bauhaus, arriving in Weimar in November 1922. Nakada was an important contact person for Iwao during the preparation period for his studies at the Bauhaus, as he had not only seen the Bauhaus with his own eyes but also returned to Japan with plenty of visual material from Germany. In Germany, Iwao continued to pursue his interests in theater. The Yamawakis often spent their weekends in Berlin, where they had rented a room. In Berlin they were connected to a circle of Japanese friends centered around the actor and director Senda Korea (千田是也 1904–1994). Together they attended theater performances and staged plays themselves. Iwao used collage to sketch and document the stage sets he saw in Berlin theaters. At the same time, he found his ideal method of representation to visualize ideas for his own stage sets.

Iwao used his own photographs in his collages, but also found visual material in newspapers and magazines. During the afternoon break, he regularly bought editions of the AIZ (Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung) from the newspaper man who offered them directly in the Bauhaus canteen. The left-liberal newspaper (AIZ for short) was very popular with the Bauhäuslers. In Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus, excerpts from the AIZ were used. The two collaged elements showing the façade of the Bauhaus are photographs Iwao took himself: the photo depicting “Bauhaus” spelled out in vertical lettering down the Dessau workshop’s south façade is from 1931. Iwao probably took the bird’s eye view of the four balconies from the article that ran on page three of the 7 August 1932 edition of the Berliner Tagesspiegel reporting on the Bauhaus’s closure. This photograph was attributed to A. P. Alfred Eisenstaedt in the article. According to Akio Izutsu’s article in the publication The Bauhaus a Japanese PerspectiveAnd a Profile of Hans and Florence Schust Knoll, Iwao took further collage material from AIZ editions of 1931 and 1932. He borrowed the title of the collage, Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus, from the title of a Berlin daily newspaper article reporting on the closure of the Bauhaus dated 23 August 1932. This can be read in the “Report C” that Iwao sent back to Japan on 4 September 1932, where he himself wrote about the closure of the Bauhaus and the circumstances.

For the Yamawaki couple, their studies at the Dessau Bauhaus ended with the closure of the Dessau site. They did not accept Mies van der Rohe’s invitation to continue their studies in Berlin. Michiko was faced with family obligations, and so after two years in Dessau the couple decided to return to Japan. The Yamawaki’s took numerous Bauhaus works and products which they had purchased from fellow students and teachers back with them to Japan. These objects became not only part of the home furnishings of their sophisticated Tokyo apartment, but also of the Bauhaus archive established by the Yamawaki’s. They also used what they had brought as study objects, making them available as a source of inspiration for aspiring Japanese designers.

Iwao’s luggage also included Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus, which Iwao originally wished to exhibit at the Bauhaus at the semester’s end. On the advice of a German friend, Iwao took the unpublished collage back to Japan, where it was first published in the architecture magazine Kokusai kenchiku (国際建築) in December 1932, together with an amended version of “Report C” dealing with the closure of the Bauhaus. Iwao let the collage—this, the violent last scene of the Bauhaus in Dessau, shortly before the curtain fell—speak for itself, publishing it without comment.

* Japanese personal names were listed according to the Japanese system, i.e. the surname precedes the first name.


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