Five culture shocks I experienced as a Serbian in Germany 

Around 300,000 to 500,000 people of Serbian descent live in Germany. Here are some of the culture shocks Serbian writer Sanja Dordevic found during a stay in Berlin.

A tower of chocolate. Sanja was surprised at how cheap food - including chocolate - was in Germany compared to Serbia.
A tower of chocolate. Sanja was surprised at how cheap food - including chocolate - was in Germany compared to Serbia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

There are lots of people from Serbia and the Balkans who come to live in Germany, usually in order to work. But, how hard is it to assimilate? As a Serbian myself, here are five things I struggled to get my head around when I arrived in Germany for the first time.

Not many luxury cars

I live in the Serbian city of Novi Sad and I’m originally from little town in the east of the country. Usually, when our “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers) come home from Germany, they do so with expensive cars, like a Mercedes or BMW. I thought that was the standard for high-income countries but I was shocked to see that people here actually drive normal vehicles.

A friend had this explanation for me: German residents can afford to buy luxury cars, but it’s expensive to fix them in Germany, because you have to go to an official service station to get your car on the road again. In the Balkans, you have your local mechanic who can fix anything for a low price, or even for free at times. Perhaps that explains part of the cultural difference. 

People drive on the Autobahn near Hamburg. Sanja expected more luxury cars in Germany.
People drive on the Autobahn near Hamburg. Sanja expected more luxury cars in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

Pedestrian and transport habits

I was really confused about where to cross the streets in Germany (I’m based in Berlin) because there are very few zebra crossings. If I cross randomly, do I get priority against the cars or a ticket? I know there are traffic lights for crossing the road, but in Serbia, there are a lot more zebra crossings, even on small roads. But pedestrians don’t get tickets in Serbia in the same way I’ve heard that people in Germany get fines for crossing the road at the wrong time. I even heard one story about a guy from London who crossed the street at a red light in Berlin, and a mother covered her child’s eyes.

READ ALSO: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at a red light in Germany?

And in Berlin, there are too many cobblestones. Sure, it looks nice but it feels jumpy while riding a bike or scooter. Speaking of riding a bike, before I came here I thought the Germans loving their safety was just a stereotype. Oh, how wrong was I! I’ve never seen as many reflective vests and helmets in my life! 

You’d also expect that the traffic jams would be awful in a city with more than 3.5 million people. But, no. People use electric scooters, bicycles, and public transport to get around, not just cars. And here we come to the next thing – you can rely on public transport. It’s common when you go by train in Serbia, that it would be very late. As a train lover, it’s not a problem for me to prolong my arrival for a few hours. I understand there’s been trouble in paradise with strikes recently, but I guess, back home, it’s a bit like there’s a “strike” all year round.

A passenger enters an S-Bahn train in Berlin
A passenger enters an S-Bahn train in Berlin. Public transport (mostly) works in Germany (or at least it’s better than in Serbia, says Sanja). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Food price differences

You might expect high-income countries like Germany to have high food prices – at least I did. But no! Food is cheaper than in Serbia, even for the same brands. For example, you can get 100g of Milka chocolate for 70 cents, and they sell us 80g for double that price! There is even 100g of proper quality chocolate for as low as 49 cents! On the other hand, prices of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes are much higher in Germany, as they should be. 

READ ALSO: Why everything is suddenly getting so expensive in Germany

Love for recycling 

When I arrived at my Berlin apartment, the landlord explained to me how to separate garbage. I know a lot about recycling because I am an ecology enthusiast, but in Serbia, it’s not mandatory to do that. You can choose to separate your waste in Serbia, but then you have to make the effort to carry it to special NGOs who deal with that. As recycling is really hard to do, nobody really does it. Here in Germany, it is easy and it seems like every household recycles. 

READ ALSO: The complete guide to recycling in Germany

A paper recycling bin in Munich.
A paper recycling bin in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Covid registration

I knew that the Germans loved their rules and order. But I couldn’t believe it when I found out you have to register before entering the museum, gallery, or even a club. I guess it’s a sin if you don’t have an internet connection to register for all the stuff you want to do. Of course, it makes sense because Covid restrictions should be strict. People in Germany also wear high-protection Covid masks all the time. I guess I just come from a place where everything is a bit too relaxed (and maybe that’s why we are experiencing such a high number of Covid cases back in Serbia).

READ ALSO: 13 things foreigners do that make Germans really uncomfortable

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What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Third-country nationals with the right to live and work in Germany are generally issued a residence permit in their passport or in the form of an ID card. But what do you if you happen to lose this vital document - or if it gets stolen? Here's a step-by-step guide.

What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Losing an important document can be a nightmare scenario for foreigners in Germany – especially if it’s the one you rely on to live and work in the country. So if you search for your residence permit one day and suddenly realise it’s missing, you may feel the urge to panic. 

Luckily, there’s a process to follow to get a replacement and ensure nobody else can misuse your residence permit in the meantime. This being Germany, it may take a little time, but rest assured you will be able to replace the document. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Different types of permit

If you’re a non-EU national in Germany, you’re likely to have one of two documents proving your rights and status in the country: 

  • a residence permit that’s placed on a page in your passport (Zusatzblatt zum Aufenthaltstitel), or
  • an electronic ID, or eID, card (electronischer Aufenthaltstitel) for permanent residents. 

Some third-country nationals who’ve been in Germany for less than five years on a visa will have their residence permit in their passport, while others will have been issued an eID card. Permanent residents will generally have an eID card. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to prove you’re a resident in Germany

Brits who lived in Germany before the Brexit cut-off date are likely to have a special type of electronic ID card known as an Aufenthaltstitel-GB. This looks pretty similar to a permanent residence card and basically signifies that the holder is entitled to the same rights as EU citizens living in Germany. 

You’ll need to do things slightly differently depending on which type of residence permit you have, so we’ll cover each in turn. 

In either case, if you suspect you’ve been a victim of theft, it’s a good idea to file a police report so they can be on the lookout for any potential fraud. 

What to do you if you lose your electronic ID card

1. Call the cancellation hotline 

If you’ve mislaid your eID card or it’s been stolen, the first thing to do is call up a national hotline on 01801 33 33 33 and put a block on the card.

To do this, you’ll need to have your Sperrkennwort (blocking passport) handy. The way you’ll have received this can differ from state to state, but usually it is sent out in a letter along with the PIN and PUK for your electronic ID card around the time that the eID was issued. 

This will block anyone from using your eID function. If you find your card again, you can unblock it by visiting the Ausländerbehörde. 

If you haven’t activated the eID function or happen to have mislaid your blocking password as well, then move straight to the second step below. 

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s electronic ID card and how do you use it?

2. Get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office)

Once you’ve put a block on your card, you’ll need to get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde to let them know what’s happened and arrange a replacement card.

You can do this via email or telephone but may also have to book an in-person appointment if they need to see certain documents for issuing the replacement. If you need to block the eID function and don’t have your Sperrkennwort, you’ll need to take your passport to the Ausländerbehörde to do this.

Bear in mind that you won’t get your new ID card straight away. Depending on the state, it can take a up to three months to be issued. You’ll also need to pay a fee for the replacement card, which can vary from state to state and is normally paid with cash or EC card at the Ausländerbehörde. 

Also, once an order for a new card has been sent off, you’ll no longer be able to reactivate your old card should you find it again. 

Ausländerbehörde Berlin

People go in and out of the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / Kay Nietfeld/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

What to do if you lose your passport and visa 

1. Order a new passport 

It probably goes without saying, but if you lose your passport with your residence permit in it, the first thing you’ll need to do is get hold of a new passport. This should be done via the government of your home country. 

2. Book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you’ve got your new passport, make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde to get a replacement printed out. If you’re unsure what documentation to bring with you to the appointment, check on their website or send them an email beforehand.

Once again, you’ll need to pay a fee for the replacement, which is normally done on-site with cash or an EC card. 

What if I’m travelling out of the country soon? 

If you’re leaving Germany and don’t have time to get a replacement eID card or residence permit, contact the Ausländerbehörde straight away. They should be able to assist you with emergency proof of residence, which is normally done in the form of a Fiktionsbescheinigung (a certificate confirming your status and rights before the official proof has been issued).

Obviously, if you’ve lost your passport, your first port of call will be your home country’s embassy, who can normally issue emergency travel documents within a matter of days. 

For Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, bringing other proof of residence in Germany such as your registration (Anmeldung) with you or a work contract should suffice to avoid getting a stamp in your passport when you re-enter. But even if you do, it won’t affect your rights.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no hard borders in Schengen, so if you’re travelling around the EU, you’ll generally be fine without your visa. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?