In 1986, my family had an exchange student stay for the month of October. He was from what was still called West Germany and was eons more intelligent and sophisticated than I was. He had black hair and amber-brown eyes and would get into heated political debates with my father at dinner. I didn’t speak with him much because I was the youngest and felt I had little to say, but I was in awe of someone who knew so much about the world. And he was from West Germany! I had so many questions that I never could ask: did he need a passport to go to East Germany? Did he understand the Russians? Were Germans bad people? Did he have to wait in line for bread? Europe seemed so far away in time, location, and concept.

Purely out of coincidence, my brother had a bottle of Royal Copenhagen around this time. My brother had gone to Germany the previous spring as part of this same exchange program and told me about writing on the Berlin Wall, riding on a motorcycle on the Autobahn, and drinking beer with his friends. It was all so wild and exciting to me, and my brain somehow melded the scent of Royal Copenhagen in with that heady intoxication. My brother never wore the cologne, but I would sneak sprays, breathing in the wisps of cedar and amber off my wool sweaters.

Fall does this to me, still. I smell Royal Copenhagen and am immediately transported back to my brother’s attic room, the books I didn’t yet understand lining bookcases, and the cerebral debates that left me wishing I knew more about life. On gusty cold autumn days like today, I still love to breathe in that scent to recharge my mind and my thirst for knowledge.


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