It might seem obvious to check out a few websites before visiting cities these days, but often you're left with the same feeling from all of them. Each one has a cathedral by default, a local delicacy and a day of the year when everyone seems to go a bit crazy.
I'm starting to think that the key is to read between the lines, and see what they aren't reporting. For example, Wikitravel refers to the "distinctive" and "exorbitant amount of pride" that Cologne offers. If you haven't guessed already, Cologne boasts to be Germany's gay capital. I say this because if you search for "alone in cologne" on Google, you get a link to the Gay Times, so I may as well embrace this early doors.
To paraphrase from my German host:
"The cathedral is the most spectacular thing in Cologne. But Cologne is very famous for some other things. For example the gays. Here are a lot of gay people. So the party scene is a little bit different from other places. The cologne people are different anyway…the people here are very open. Some kind of Party-Folk. But they are not so serious, as they are in Hamburg for example."
But what kind of cosmopolitan city doesn't have a gay scene today? In comparison, my only other reference to Cologne in my first 20 years was during the reading of an A-Level German set text. Heinrich Böll was of Kölsch origin, and Cologne was a possible setting for 'Das Brot der frühen Jahre', or 'The Bread of those early years'. Here was a story of Walter Fenrich, who was part of the German community rebuilding following the Second World War. The reference to bread is of harder times when he was a boy, where something such as bread was a major commodity.
Over in Berlin, the rival for the throne of Gay Capital, the Olympic Stadium has seen a complete renovation in time for this World Cup. The scene of Jesse Owens et al in 1936 at a time of political fragility is now hosting the single greatest match in sport.
It seems that within Germany they have already made a fantastic attempt to shrug off the shackles of recent history and a move towards a more cosmopolitan life. This summer the rest of the world will finally update their factfiles on a country that hasn't left their history behind, but simply changed in spite of it.