A trip to Europe usually elicits thoughts of culture, architecture and food. But for three UC Berkeley students who recently ventured from Vienna to Berlin with nothing but a 24-pack of Red Bull, it was about charm, resourcefulness and perseverance. Sophomore Jimmy Stewart, sophomore Milad Razavi and junior Jimmy Kollar competed in this year’s Red Bull “Can You Make It?” challenge, an annual test of wits and endurance that assigns a hundred teams on an epic trek across Europe. Between April 4 and April 11, the team traveled through 12 cities and talked with thousands of locals with nothing but Red Bull and their words to get from Vienna to Berlin.
With only seven days, the team had to maximize its use of time to get to Berlin.
“Wherever we went, we would always try to get to the train station first and go up to the conductor and tell him our story,” said Stewart. “A lot of them were like, ‘That’s fuckin’ awesome, hop on!’ in very broken English. We got a chance to ride first-class a few times.”
Not everyone was as enthusiastic to help them at first. Trying to endear themselves to people and gather their trust and admiration was one of the toughest challenges of the competition.
“We weren’t three hot girls. We were three burly guys,” Razavi said. “So we tried to incorporate psychological elements such as sympathy and empathy into our story. We only had, on average, a 20-second window between meeting someone to getting what we needed. And 20 seconds of meeting someone is nothing.”
But their “Berkeley-badge” gave them an advantage in the competition.
“The moment we tell people we were students from UC Berkeley, they take a step back and say, ‘Woah.’ It’s amazing how well represented Cal is around the world,” said Razavi. “A surprising amount of people were already familiar with the competition, so all we had to do was show them our gear, which had all the Red Bull logos, give them a 10-second rundown of the event, and they’d want to help.”
Trying to convince people to help them wasn’t the only challenge in the competition. They had to complete challenges such as racing on a paddleboat in Prague and cow-milking in Lugano. In Venice, they were shown a picture of someone dressed as a prince and were told to find him in the city within 30 minutes. They ended up finding him in 23 minutes walking through an alleyway on the opposite side of the city from where they had started.
Though the trip was physically difficult for the team, the members received inspiration from people they met along the way.
“The best part of the trip for me was when we were trying to get out of Vienna to go to Linz. Nothing was working, until this guy finally picked us up. He was Hungarian, didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t understand what we were doing; we just couldn’t communicate it to him. He still drove us all the way to Linz, bought us each KFC, water and train tickets to Innsbruck. We weren’t even good company to him at all — we all fell asleep in the car,” Stewart said. “But just out of kindness he got us around 200 euros worth of tickets, gave us a ride for like three hours and bought us food. That was the best part of the trip for me, just experiencing the magnitude of human generosity.”
They received inspiration not only from the people who helped them throughout the trip but also from other teams.
“We’d all hug each other, kiss and start crying. We were all going through this grind together, that upon (the) second meeting and every subsequent meeting after that, the amount of intimacy shared between teams was more than the intimacy I share with people I see every day,” Razavi said. “It was just pure happiness and joy and eyes genuinely lighting up when we see each other across the train station.”
The competition ended with the team making it to Berlin with an hour to spare. In total, they used 120 Red Bull cans, which placed them in eighth place for the least number of cans used in the competition. They traveled 2,500 kilometers between Vienna and Berlin and had accumulated more than 2,000 euros’ worth of train tickets. In seven days, they had each slept less than 20 hours and eaten three plates of warm food.
They summarized the whole competition as a “really cool, just amazingly powerful experience.” But trekking through Europe actually gave them a greater appreciation for California and their home.
“Fifty percent of Europeans would ask us, ‘Why did you leave California?’ That was a little weird at first because I mean, we’re in freaking Europe. They all said that California was ‘so sick’ or ‘so beautiful,’ and that made us realize that since we were born and raised here, we couldn’t fully appreciate California because we didn’t have anything to compare it to,” Razavi said. “We came back here and realized, Berkeley and San Francisco are filled with so many incredibly smart, talented and interesting people, too. I started to wonder why I don’t view my everyday life here in Berkeley as winning. That was the biggest perspective change for me.”
Contact Raymond Yang at [email protected].