By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, July 5 (Reuters) - Germany have spent most of their time at the World Cup behind the high walls of their 'Campo Bahia' fortress on the shores of the Atlantic - largely avoiding contact with fans, locals and the media.
With their uniquely meticulous style of doing things, the Germans have created an almost impermeable cocoon around their exclusive resort with its 14 luxury villas, shielding their players from the outside world and its distractions.
It is hard to argue with the success of the German formula of "Konzentration und Fokussierung", as they call it, because the three-time World Cup winners have reached a fourth straight semi-finals and are one of the favourites to win the title.
But the tight, unfriendly security surrounding the lavish luxury of the multi-million euro German camp behind the high walls strikes a jarring contrast to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of this poor village of 800 people in Bahia state.
"Alemanha cria 'muro de Berlim' na Bahia," (Germany creates a 'Berlin Wall' in Bahia,) wrote the national Brazil newspaper Folha de St. Paulo after seeing the intimidating fortress.
While many other World Cup teams have been seen mingling, smiling, signing autographs and spending time with fans and local residents in Brazil, the Germans stay behind the tightly guarded, two-metre high walls of their camp in a remote part of northeastern Brazil except for training and travel to matches.
Locals, tourists and even a few German fans who try to catch a glimpse of the players - or even an autograph - wait in vain on the beach outside the heavily guarded citadel.
"Our philosophy is concentration and focus and part of that is our team quarters," said Germany's team spokesman Jens Grittner when asked why the squad seem to be so hermetically sealed off from the public and media.
"The coaching staff puts an emphasis on 'concentration and focus' and it's one of the important elements of our job here," he added as Germany prepare for Tuesday's semi-final against hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte.
Even a 500-metre section of the narrow dirt lane passing in front of the compound - the only road through town - is cut off to traffic and pedestrians are discouraged from passing the roadblock unless they turn off their cell phone cameras.
Local residents are only allowed into the security zone to their homes if they present a special badge, seen as a nuisance.
"I wouldn't interpret it that our quarters are sealed off," said Grittner. "It's just part of our professional preparations. Other teams have a different philosophy on that than we do."
Indeed, just a dozen kilometres down the road from Germany's fancy camp with its new purpose-built villas, Switzerland stayed in an ordinary roadside hotel and openly mingled with the other guests at the hotel bar, in the pool and at breakfast.
In other towns and cities hosting World Cup teams, smiling players can often be seen in Brazil's media posing for pictures with fans or signing autographs. It is not something Germans are seen doing much of - smiling with fans or giving autographs.
At the Germany media centre nearby, coach Joachim Loew has appeared just twice in the last four weeks. Journalists are allowed to watch and film the first 20 minutes of two or three training sessions each week but the public are not allowed.
With a demanding audience back home craving another World Cup after the last title in 1990 and a critical media expecting entertaining attacking football and victories, Loew and his players seem to be flourishing in their own little world.
"I haven't read any newspapers since I got to Brazil," Loew said proudly last week when asked about media criticism of his lineup and strategy back home. "I stay away from all that to keep my head clear for important things."
Loew and his players all got new cell phone numbers for the World Cup, making them all but unreachable to German reporters as a further precaution to prevent any disruptive leaks.
When a young Brazilian boy approached Miroslav Klose at the hotel hosting the media centre two weeks ago and asked for a picture with him, the striker was yanked away by a German Football Association (DFB) security guard.
When two hotel workers asked Thomas Mueller to pose for a picture with them a week later he agreed but when they put their arms around him for the snapshot he growled: "Don't touch!" and pushed himself away before the snapshot could be taken.
Several hundred local fans wait for hours - sometimes in pouring rain and into the late night hours - to welcome the returning or departing Germany squad as they walk between their ferry and team bus. But hardly any players ever wave or smile at the supporters let alone sign even a single autograph. (Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Ken Ferris)
- Sports & Recreation