Nestled in the heart of the Bavarian Alps at the foot of Germany’s highest peak, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a romantic, old-world ski resort city in southern Germany — the perfect setting for an escape from my frenetic American lifestyle.

One of my first stops after checking into the Hotel Zugspitze was the spa. Located in the basement of the hotel, colourful, handpainted murals brightened the reception area of the Therapiezentrum Werdenfels Spa. I took a quick tour and was enticed by the appealing private suites for massages, facials, water therapies, pedicures, and other spa services. I immediately booked a facial, massage, seaweed wrap, and pedicure.

As I settled in for my pedicure the next morning, Frau Kerstin Hein never lost her rhythm in exfoliating, massaging, and polishing as I barraged her with questions about the German nail industry. She first explained that, outside of hotel spas, most salons are operated by a single cosmetician/nail designer. What they lack in manpower, though, these independent operators make up for in versatility — their extensive training qualifies them to offer a variety of spa-type services, ranging from facials and massages to aromatherapy baths, manicures, and pedicures.

While tourists usually head to the hotel spas, she says, most locals visit the corner salon — though they typicallyhave to turn a lot more corners in Germany than in the United States to find a nail salon. Hein confides that Garmisch-Partenkirchen has three nail salons serving a population of 40,000 people. Hein’s clients prefer their nails au natural, but facials and aromatherapy baths are at the top of the list of services requested at the spa because tourists visit the hotel for relaxation.

Later in the week, a friend hooked me up with Angelika de Kruijff, owner of ABS (Angie’s Beauty Shop) in Duisburg — a suburb of Düsseldorf — in north­ern Germany. De Kruijff’s salon specializes in beauty treatments and gel nails and she agrees that German women show a distinct preference for natural- looking artificial nails. She says 95% of her clients wear gels, which they choose for the added strength, long-wearing polish, and minimal maintenance (most of her clients go four weeks between fills).

According to my German technicians, in both cities nail art has declined in popularity — the trend of shorter, more natural-looking nails seems to be similar in Germany as in the United States. De Kruijff charges roughly $70 (U.S.) for a full set and $35 (U.S.) for a fill. A manicure or pedicure, on the other hand, equates to about $20 (U.S.) each — roughly the same as a newly released CD or a hardcover book.

De Kruijff also credits the popularity of gel nails partly to her salon’s proximity to Dusseldorf — Germany’s fashion capital and home of the annual Beauty International Show. In Dusseldorf, the ratio is one nail salon for every 567 potential customers (in contrast to Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s 1:13,333 salons-to-potential-customers ratio.

The differences between spa versus nail salon, northern Germany versus southern Germany, and tourist versus local, dig even deeper. For example, Hein says most of her pedicures are of the spa variety, while de Kruijff notes that most of her clients request what she calls a medical pedicure. De Kruijff’s training qualifies her to deal with foot conditions such as corns and ingrowntoenails. To earn their licenses, both attended one year of school full time, followed by a one-year, hands-on apprenticeship in a salon or spa. Only then could they take the test for the license, which is issued by Germany’s Chamber of Industry & Commerce. To maintain their licenses, practitioners must attend three days of training every quarter, which they typically get from product manufacturers. While salon owners are required to be licensed, salon employees are not. Of those who finish training, roughly 85% obtain a license.

Julee Hunt is a freelance writer based in Roswell, Ga.

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