As the plane lands, Hazel looks out the window and notes that the Netherlands seems sunk into the ocean with little rectangles of green surrounded by water.
Amsterdam provides the perfect setting for the novel's climax. For Hazel, the water in her lungs is a source of suffering, but her suffering is a place where she develops a deep understanding of life. Amsterdam also becomes a place of pain and new understanding for Hazel.
They take a cab into Amsterdam. Hazel notices the differences of Amsterdam compared to Indianapolis. The row houses lean precariously toward the water in the canal. There are bicycles, and coffee shops everywhere. She thinks about how wonderful it would be to live in a place where everything had been built by the dead. The cabbie notes that most people come to Amsterdam for the Red Light District, but he says that Amsterdam is not a city of sin, but one of freedom, and in freedom, most people find sin.
Amsterdam's differences from America give Hazel new perspectives that match her existential musings. The building's precarious positions mirror Hazel and Augustus's own shaky life situations. Even in the wonder of it all, Hazel thinks about death, but her thoughts are not necessarily negative, as the dead have left behind the beauty of the city. By mentioning freedom, the cabbie alludes to the new kinds of freedom Hazel will experience there.
They get out at the Hotel Filosoof. Hazel explains that the hotel rooms are named after Filosoofers (philosophers) and that she will be staying in a room named after Kierkegaard. Augustus will be staying in a room named after Heidegger. Hazel finds a basket full of presents from the Genies in her room, including an orange Holland t-shirt, wooden shoes, and chocolate.
The hotel they stay in furthers the theme of existential philosophy. The rooms are named after philosophers that are known for the existential philosophies. The presents are just another cancer perk Hazel and Augustus receive because of their health, reminding them that they are there because they are different than normal kids.
Hazel decides to take a nap, but tells her mother to go enjoy the Vondelpark (a famous public park in Amsterdam) across from the hotel. She falls asleep, and wakes up a few hours later. She finds Mrs. Lancaster sitting in a chair across from the bed. Hazel asks her mother how the park was, but her mother reveals she didn't go. Hazel feels bad, but her mother tells her she will go out that evening while Hazel goes out to dinner with Augustus. Hazel is surprised that her mother is not coming to dinner. Her mother tells her that Van Houten has set up a dinner at a place called Oranjee in a fancy part of town. She tells Hazel the dinner will be very romantic.
Hazel wants her mother to experience Amsterdam without being held back, but despite her permission to leave, her mother stays, showing her dedication to Hazel. Mrs. Lancaster’s willingness to let Hazel go to dinner alone with Augustus suggests that she is allowing Hazel to engage in a mature relationship, and her comment about how romantic it will be lets Hazel know she supports her in this endeavor.
Hazel notes that it might seem crazy that her mother would let her go out into a foreign city with her 16 year old boyfriend alone, but this freedom is a side effect of dying. She can’t run, or dance, or eat certain things, but in the city of freedom, she is among the most liberated of its residents.
Hazel attributes her mother’s decision to the fact that she has cancer. Because of her cancer and her mother’s usual protectiveness, it seems like an incredible freedom to go out with Augustus. Although Hazel usually feels different, in Amsterdam, she is allowed to experience the freedom that everyone experiences, which makes her feel somewhat normal.
Hazel puts on a sundress and does her hair until she looks like mid-2000’s Natalie Portman. Augustus arrives wearing a black suit with a blue shirt and a thin black tie. He tells Hazel she looks gorgeous. Hazel ties to talk, but can’t get the words out of her mouth. Finally she says she feels underdressed. Mrs. Lancaster then tells Augustus he looks extremely handsome.
Hazel attempts to appear like Natalie Portman to impress Augustus, which also alludes to the scene where they first met. Hazel is so struck by Augustus appearance that she is unable to respond, showing that she is falling for him, but also that she is still innocent when it comes to dating.
While they wait for the tram, Hazel asks Augustus if the suit is one that he wears to funerals. He says no, that the suit he wears to funerals isn’t nearly as nice as the one he has on. An older man on the tram offers them his seat, and Hazel and Augustus watch out the window as the trees drop seeds that look like “miniature rose petals drained of color.” The older gentleman tells them that it is spring in Amsterdam, and the trees “throw confetti to greet the spring.”
Hazel’s question about Augustus’ suit shows just how acquainted with death they are. The images of the rose petals drained of color work as mixed metaphors. Roses are romantic, but these seeds are like rose petals drained of color, suggesting there is something dead about them. At the same time, they fall in celebration of spring, which is, symbolically, a symbol or rebirth.
When Hazel and Augustus arrive at the restaurant, the waitress greets them excitedly, calling them “Mr. and Mrs. Waters.” The waitress gives them champagne, and they have a toast. Hazel looks out over the canal, noticing boats of all shapes and sizes floating on the water.
As they enter the restaurant, they are treated like a married couple, suggesting that their relationship has reached a new level. Unlike Hazel’s typical association between water and drowning, in this new place, the boats overcome the water by floating on top of it.
Another waiter arrives and takes their orders. He tells them that Champagne has been compared to “bottled stars” and when Augustus asks for another glass, the waiter says, yes, they have bottled all of the stars tonight. The trees continue dropping “confetti” and the waiter brushes one off of Hazels shoulder, frustrated. Augustus can’t understand how the beautiful falling seeds could perturb anyone. Hazel notes that people get used to beauty and it is not longer beautiful. Augustus tells her he has not gotten used to her beauty.
The reference to bottled stars connects to the title of the novel. In the title, the stars refer to their fate, but in Amsterdam, the stars have been bottled, suggesting that their fate has been subdued, at least for the moment. Because of their health and the perspective it gives them, Hazel and Augustus are able to see beauty where other people see ugliness, which connects to the reason why they are together in the first place—they can see past the other’s "defects".
Hazel thanks Augustus for the trip, but immediately thinks that she doesn't want to be a grenade. She immediately realizes that Augustus knows what he is getting into, and it was his choice. Augustus asks her to recite the line she recited on the airplane. She recites a different line about human voices waking the speaker of the poem, and then drowning.
Hazel’s perspective of herself as a grenade begins to change as she realizes that Augustus has chosen to be with her. The line she recites, however, connects to the suffering of drowning, which suggests she is still preoccupied with causing pain. This line also foreshadows the pain she will later feel over Augustus.
Their food arrives and they are blown away by how good it is. As they eat, a boat moves past in the canal, and a blond woman raises her glass to them and shouts something in Dutch. Augustus shouts back that they don't speak Dutch, so the lady yells in English, “The beautiful couple is beautiful.”
Their experience in Amsterdam is vastly different than in the U.S. In Amsterdam, people do not stare at them for being different. Instead, they are celebrated for being beautiful.
After dinner, Hazel notes how everything is perfect, but it doesn't feel right. She knows that the trip and the dinner are “cancer perks”. After a while, Augustus tells Hazel the suit he is wearing is one that he had bought for his own funeral before his cancer went into remission.
Hazel is unable to see past the fact that the trip is a cancer perk, showing the difficulty she has seeing past her cancer. Also, the fact that Augustus is wearing his funeral suit to dinner shows the way in which death is always present for them, and also foreshadows Augustus’ impending death.
Augustus asks Hazel if she believes in the afterlife. Hazel says that she doesn't. Augustus responds by saying that he does with confidence. Hazel notes that she has always thought of heaven as an “intellectual disengagement”, but Augustus is smart, and he believes. Hazel asks him about his fear of oblivion, and he tells her that he fears “earthly oblivion”, that he won’t be able to do anything meaningful with his life to be remembered for. Hazel grows upset with his obsession with dying for something heroic. She tells him its mean to believe that the only lives that matter are the ones that are lived for something and die for something. After a moment, Augustus apologizes. She realizes in that moment, that Augustus is really in love with her, and that makes her like him more.
Hazel’s nihilistic philosophy of life and death make it difficult for her to believe in an afterlife. Her mind is opened, however, when Augustus reveals his fear of oblivion is based on being remembered on earth, which for him does not negate the idea of an afterlife. Hazel grows upset because she feels like Augustus thinks less of her for not leaving a mark on the world. When Augustus realizes he really hurt Hazel, he apologizes, which shows how much he cares about her feelings, and caring so much lets Hazel know he truly loves her.
After leaving the restaurant, Hazel and Augustus take a walk. They talk about An Imperial Affliction, and Hazel is surprised about how much thought Augustus has given the book. They sit on a bench by the canal and Hazel notes that Amsterdam is a city that should be under water, but they made it exist. She compares herself to Amsterdam, and thinks Dr. Maria thinks of her as a “half-drowned anomaly.”
Instead of simply connecting over their shared experience with cancer, Augustus and Hazel find connection through art. Amsterdam as a setting reflects Hazel’s situation, which makes it the perfect place for the unfolding of the events to come.
Hazel asks Augustus about Caroline Mathers. Augustus puts a cigarette in his mouth and tells her he met her at the hospital during treatment. He says that you sound like a bastard if you don't romanticize the dead and make cancer patients sound heroic. He says that cancer kids are not any more special than regular kids; they are just dying. He tells her that Caroline’s brain cancer changed her personality, causing her to laugh at his prosthetic, tell the same jokes about him over and over, have outbursts. He says he did not blame Caroline, but it was not easy. Hazel tells him that she does not want to do what Caroline did to him. He tells her not to worry, that it would be a privilege to have his heart broken by her.
By putting a cigarette in his mouth, Augustus shows that this is a difficult subject for him and an area in his life in which he is seeking control. His philosophy on cancer kids not being more special than anyone else mirrors Hazel's, and his stories about Caroline work against the clichés associated with cancer. Hazel fears she will do the same to Augustus, but he is aware of what he is in for, and his love for Hazel makes it worth the pain.