(CNN) — Berlin these days seems to have everything: a thrilling creative and club scene, a laissez-faire attitude and an abundance of history. But the world must be getting tired of hearing how great Berlin is. And is it really that great?
Maybe, just maybe, western Germany has something better on offer. Behold, the mighty city of Cologne. While Cologne has plenty of great features, what it doesn't have is hype.
Berlin enjoys massive media coverage all over the world, while Cologne has remained refreshingly low-key and down to earth.
1. Location, location, location
OK, so Berlin is surrounded by wonderful lakes and after four or five hours on the train, travelers can make it to Prague or Warsaw. Otherwise, it's pretty isolated.
Cologne not so much: There are four major cities in four other countries not far from its doorstep: Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Paris are all four hours away by train or car.
Want a shopping trip to three EU countries in one day? Only 90 minutes from Cologne is Dreiländereck, the corner where the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet. Let's gloss over Berlin's airport for now (more about this later). At least Cologne has one that works properly.
2. The beer
Yes, yes, Berlin may have a ton of new craft breweries, with new pale ale creations filtered through the socks of brew masters invented on a daily basis. But the quality and heritage of traditional Berlin beer brands is debatable. The local beer in Cologne, the lager-style Kölsch, enjoys such a pedigree that it's guarded by law.
Served since World War II, Kölsch was given "protected geographical indication" status in 1997, meaning it can only be produced in Cologne. To underscore its heritage, Kölsch comes complete with its own serving traditions.
It must always be served in small, 0.2 liter glasses. When drinkers have had their fill, they must put a coaster on top of the empty glass, otherwise waiters will keep the beer flowing without asking.
That's something the average Berlin hipster waiter won't do.
As we've pointed out before, the best carnival is in Germany. Cologne's annual Rose Monday Parade sees more than a million costumed inhabitants and visitors partying like there's no tomorrow.
To make this a proper heathen affair, Cologne's pub owners install straw effigies called Nubbel above their doors to bear the guilt of any sins committed during the festivities.
On Ash Wednesday, when celebrations end, the Nubbels are burned or thrown in the Rhine River, taking the sins with them.
In Berlin, the celebrations end when the nightclub bouncer decides they do. And your sins come home with you to take up space in your overpriced apartment. Berliners would beg to differ about Cologne's superiority -- celebratory and otherwise.
"Well, I think it is quite provincial," born Berliner Andreas Koetter said of Cologne.
"Just look at their carnival. It's like they are only allowed to have fun during that time -- whereas in Berlin you can go out every night of the week, and everyone is allowed to celebrate their personal carnival any time they want."
4. The Romans liked it early
Cologne already was a powerful city when the medieval Prussian tribes were paddling their barges along the empty shoreline of Berlin's Spree River. After all, it was founded in 50 B.C. by the Romans, and it's one of the oldest cities in Germany.
That fact is even reflected in the name. Cologne is abbreviated from Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.
There still are Roman leftovers strewn around the city, like the excellently preserved Praetorium and parts of the Roman city wall. Find something in Berlin that is older than 1,200 years, and we'll buy you a Kölsch.
5. Green demilitarized zones
OK, we admit it, Berlin is pretty green. However, this is mostly because of the Cold War division of the city and the post-Berlin Wall transformation of barren strips into common land like the Mauerpark.
In Cologne, they made former military grounds available to citizens way before. The old Prussian fortresses that surrounded Cologne were all turned into what is known today as Green Belt, or Grüngürtel, by 1925.
Today, the residents of Cologne enjoy almost 1,000 hectares of parkland that was formerly verboten military territory.
6. Artistic superiority
Berlin is all about creativity and art, but what's the use if it doesn't have the buyers and collectors?
Cologne has both. Not only has the city always played a leading role in the German contemporary and visual arts scene; it also boasts a thriving landscape of galleries. It has one of Germany's best contemporary art museum (the Museum Ludwig) plus the world's oldest art fair, Art Cologne, and its own biennale.
"Cologne is excellent for the arts." says Jochen Heufelder, director of the Cologne arts biennale New Talents. "Not only do we have an established network of artists, collectors and arts academies, there also is a long history of creativity in the city."
By all means go to Berlin to dream about becoming a painter. Or come to Cologne and do it for real.
7. The Cathedral
Berlin has the unfinished saga of its new airport -- one that's been under construction since 2006, was supposed to open in 2010 and will now take a least another three years to complete. But dear Berlin, to Cologne this unfinished business is just child's play.
When it comes to monumental celebrations of laissez-faire and failed planning, little beats Cologne Cathedral, among Germany's most-visited landmarks. Construction began in 1248, was paused in 1473, and was finally completed in 1880.
One wooden crane involved in building its south tower sat there from 1450 to 1868 -- more than 400 years. The machines constructing the new Berlin airport won't make it that long. And the building called Berlin Cathedral? That's from 1905. Come on.
8. The Rhine
Berlin might have the Spree, a few canals and more bridges than Venice, but Cologne is built on the banks of the second-longest European river.
The Rhine is a proper river, not a teeny rivulet for pleasure boats like the Spree. Its narrowest section in the city is still a whopping 300 meters wide.
Cologne also has Germany's second biggest inland harbor and is a favorite stop for river cruises. It's impossible to imagine the famous Cologne city panorama with cathedral and Hohenzollern train bridge without the impressive band of river beneath?
9. It's Italy's northernmost city
Ah, winter in Berlin, when it's -20 degrees Celsius for weeks on end, the streets are covered in layers of dirty ice and everyone's hugging their old ovens or hiding in dimly lit cafes.
Not so in Cologne. Thanks to its position on the Rhine, it actually has one of the mildest city climates in Germany. Summers here are long, and in winter it hardly ever gets below zero.
Going hand-in-hand with that is a distinct al fresco dining and drinking culture, and the city even has a population of wild parrots that thrive in the mild climate. No wonder the Romans ended up in Cologne first.