Cologne is a city of roughly one million, a significant industrial center (Ford's main European operations are based there) that enjoys a big trade fair scene; its zoo is the proud host of a baby elephant.
It also gets about 4,5 million tourists a year. And it's hard to see why.
Yes, there's always the cathedral, and it's a very impressive one indeed (though I still like Sacre Coeur better). There are old churches dotted around the city center, as well as bits of old Roman walls and towers, and a gold-plated Ford Fiesta with wings. However, 92% of the old town was destroyed in WWII; downtown Cologne is almost entirely new, and almost entirely a shopping district. Four point five million people a year, who take an hour to walk up the cathedral spire if they're quite dedicated (I couldn't be bothered), and then spend the rest of their time shopping.
It's also not a very Ordnung sort of town. I'd mentioned this before about Berlin, but Berlin is in East Germany at least; Cologne does not have this excuse. My host said he admired Holland for being so effortlessly clean, and having actually compared the two I can see his point: the Netherlands is where you go in Europe if you want to see stereotypical Germany. Cologne is an industrial town, it feels very similar to Rotterdam in this. However, my host and his friends said that Cologne is a very good place to live, even if it's not overtly pretty. As a Tallinn boy who moved to Tartu, I can appreciate the sentiment.
Total time on the road was just under two weeks - starting on a Tuesday morning and coming home the next Sunday afternoon. I've been to some interesting places, met a lot of wonderful people, and took over six hundred pictures, some of which are available here. I also accomplished my ultimate goals:
1. Get a feel for North Europe. There are things you start to understand only when you've seen a place for yourself, even if it's only a day or two; subtle things about the streets, the buildings, the attitudes of the people. It takes an outside perspective, but the trip has reassured me in the ideal of a single Europe: a lot of people I met had no faith in the EU lasting, but they had no idea of the extent to which the territories I traveled through are in fact one big community.
2. Get a sense of accomplishment. It was an implausible, complicated trek, put together at the last minute in parts, but in the end it went off without a hitch. It was important for me to know that I could pull it off. And now when people ask me what I did this summer, I can tell them that I went to London; Paris; Amsterdam; north Holland; Cologne; and Berlin. And they're impressed.
Next step? Something more exotic. I feel like I've done everything that the germanic North could offer me, and Paris was the most unusual stop on the trip, so I'm now interested in what Latin Europe can offer me. So my next big trip will probably be the Mediterranean Rim - including, quite possibly, North Africa.