I decided on a whim to come to Paris on Wednesday of last week because one of my best friends was going to be in town. It didn’t even occur to me until the night before I was scheduled to fly into Paris that the Euro tournament was in full swing all over France.
I’ve become pretty laid back in general about a lot of things, but I still have a healthy barometer for personal safety. So I became concerned that all the terrorist threats singling out the Euro games in France would become more than just threats while I happened to be in town. And I questioned whether I should be going to Paris during such a high-profile event, one more likely than usual to attract terrorist activity.
But a little thing like fear doesn’t usually stop me from doing anything so on Saturday morning, I happily boarded my flight to Paris and went about my day. And it was a fantastic day, though the persistent fear of potential terrorist activity did nag at me, particularly when we heard multiple sirens in the street or when we were in really crowded areas.
As the day wore on and after a delicious dinner and a bottle of wine, I felt a little less concerned about things of that nature. And naturally, I suggested checking out the Fan Zone set up in front of the Eiffel Tower to watch the games, particularly since Germany and Italy were playing each other.
The security to get into the zone was strict, even though it’s essentially an open space. Fences surround the perimeter of the Fan Zone and even more fences surround the streets around the zone. After being frisked and having our bags searched by the police, we were let into the area only to undergo a second frisk and search by event coordinators.
The area is crawling with armed police and the extensive security checks made us feel safe. Once inside, we were having a blast. There were plenty of food stands, comfortable spaces with activities, a merchandise store, bleachers, and screens galore to watch the game… All in the shadow of the majestic Eiffel Tower, which began lighting up as the day turned to night.
The game went on without incident, and my friend and I enjoyed the peaceful crowd, the wine, and a chocolate-covered waffle, all while rooting for Germany. Then sometime after regulation but before the additional minutes were done being played, the crowd in front of us starting bolting in our direction in complete terror.
So I turned around and began running, thinking to myself, “Fuck, it’s actually happening.” For a few brief moments, the inside of the Fan Zone was chaos. People were trampling each other and heading for the exits. Someone spilled their entire beer all over me in their mad dash. I tried to reach for my friend’s hand but couldn’t find it. In the process of turning around, one of my shoes came off and I was faced with a split second decision I had never before had to consider: “If going back for that shoe means taking a bullet, I will replace the shoe. I can run without it.” So I ran, looking back only to scan the crowd for my friend but not finding her in the sea of horrified faces. And I kept running with one shoe over the hard mulch of the Fan Zone until I was almost at the exit.
I realized at that point that people around me were stopping, not running anymore in such a panic. I also saw police who didn’t seem to be in full emergency mode. So I stopped, too, and looked around. Whatever the threat or perceived threat that had spooked all these people had subsided. So I walked back to where we were, in search of my friend and my shoe. Eventually, I found my shoe and my friend found me.
As it turns out, someone with poor sense and even poorer taste had set off fireworks in the crowd. A combination of the sound, lights, and smoke set a few people running, creating a domino effect that rippled throughout the entire area. After everyone realized it was a false alarm, people were visibly shaken, some of them crying. Almost everyone left before the game ended. Outside the Fan Zone, hundreds of people had gathered to discuss what they had seen and experienced.
We made our way back to our hotel, luckily only a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower Fan Zone. I limped the whole way, grateful that all of our collective fears had not come to pass, and that I had recovered my shoe before stepping on broken glass. Parisians may be scared and jittery after everything they’ve been through, but they were there. And despite the scare we got, we were lucky to be there with them. And Germany won the match, after all.