Hvala lepo, Belgrade!

Home is where your family is

jan in belgrade

It has been three years since our moving-to-Belgrade discussion started and we are about to move back. Time flew by... I almost wrote that we’re about to move back home, but then I stopped and asked myself: Are we? Are we going back home? What is Switzerland and what does Belgrade mean to us?

That is really a good question – not just for me, but for my whole family.

For example, my younger daughter Noa spent more time in Serbia than in Switzerland. She’s a bit more than three years old now and we’ve been living in Belgrade for 2.5 years. Similar applies to Malea, my older daugther. After adaptation at the beginning, she fitted very well in Belgrade. Her Serbian is fluent now and she enjoys her ballet classes. She even took part in a ballet show. Both of them really love their kindergarten with all of their friends, all the cool kindergarten activities, their great teachers and all the exciting birthday parties. They became Beograđanke (girls from Belgrade).

Jans Family
My family in the Belgrade office.

During these years, the two of them grew up with Serbian admixtures and sometimes it is crazy to see how Serbian they are. At least, they look Serbian to me and my colleagues from our Belgrade office stopped being surprised by how well Malea and Noa speak Serbian. But they started to make fun of me and my non-existing Serbian.

Our Serbian experience was a bit harder to my wife Elena (maybe you read it in my previous blog). Noa and Malea figured it out the children-way - completely different than the two of us. I came here to work, and Elena left her job in Switzerland to support me. In the end, she used the time in Serbia to develop her own private business. She has been working a lot on it and will kick it off quite soon. I’m very proud of her and it will be cool!

jans family
Streets of Belgrade.

And me? Well… My time in Belgrade was very intense. But I liked it a lot! I totally identified with the job and gave my best to do as good as possible. It was very hard to take the responsibility without any handover and having two jobs at the same time. After getting used to the new situation, I was focused on shaping our office and developing it in the right way. It kind of was my baby for the last three years. I tried to be completely involved and I did everything from finding new offices, restarting servers and even putting together the sofa on the ninth floor. But most importantly, I was fighting for Belgrade matters, trying to improve the collaboration between locations and growing the office without losing our positive spirit and culture.

I discovered that the hardest thing is being placed between two cultures. Believe me, there are cultural differences between Switzerland and Serbia. Sometimes, it was harsh to negotiate between these two. It simply isn’t a question of right and wrong – the cultures are just different. After facing the situation between two cultures, I truly believe it would help us (not only at Merkle) if we would assume good intentions even more. All of us do want the same - more or less - and we do have so many similarities, only the details are different. Being a bit more tolerant (on all sides) would improve the common understanding between different cultures a lot.

A second lesson I learned the hard way was not to take everything personal, even though our Belgrade office was kind of my baby. It was very hard to see colleagues leaving. It still is, but in the beginning I took every single notice personal. I almost felt like someone is breaking up with me. It wasn’t only about people leaving. It was regarding everything related to Belgrade. Positive and negative stuff. After a while, I had to learn how to be a bit more distanced. It would have been a too emotional roller coaster otherwise. And I had to accept that it is just not possible to control everything and just to accept some things, whether I like them or not.

I’m quite sure that there wouldn't have been any job at Merkle which would have fulfilled me more. Here in Belgrade I had the full scope of running a location or even a company. The responsibility was very broad and I like that. Still the unit was small enough to be very close to our Belgrade employees. And that’s the part of my job I really loved. I tried to be there for each and everyone of my Belgrade colleagues. Whenever someone approached me, I was eager to support her or him. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I really liked being there for them. That‘s quite a job with 50 employees in the office. It takes a lot of time but it is worth it. I am sure that our Belgrade office deserves only the best. We have so many great people, they are smart, open-minded, eager to learn, welcoming, supportive and positive. You can’t imagine how much I will miss them. :(

It was and still is tricky to keep balance between private and business life. The workload is huge and never ending. As soon as one task is done, two new ones pop up. And the time in Belgrade now ends how it started: with two jobs. The story repeats itself: One of our HR employees from Belgrade is on pregnancy leave and soon on maternity leave. But it’s not only about the workload. Some decisions - especially if employees are affected - are hard to take and bother you after working hours and during nights as well. Some decisions have been right, some wrong. It’s always easier to judge after you know the outcome of your decision. I definitely took every single decision to the best of my knowledge and belief at the time given. On top of these work related characteristics, Merkle is the only reason why my family and me are here in Belgrade. We became a Merkle-centred family. Merkle was everywhere and that fact made everything more intense. Don’t get me wrong, it was very cool, but I sometimes even forget there is a life besides Merkle. Most of our private relationships in Belgrade are Merkle-based which is great! But Merkle was very dominant. Despite of that, I really believe we found friendships here and I hope they’ll stay forever.

Welcome, Didi!

Didi and the kids
Malea and Noa with Didi somewhere (in the middle of nowhere) in East Serbia.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me to tell the funniest story about my experience in Serbia. It was hard to answer this question, but I realized one thing: every crazy story I was thinking of was from my first year in Serbia. I guess we became Serbian to a certain extent. :)


Some new funny stories are related to our newest “family” member.


His name is Didi, he is 18 years old and he is from Germany. Didi is the car we bought after our first year in Belgrade. Didi introduced us to different places in Serbia. We started to explore more than just Belgrade and we saw the North, South, East and West of Serbia. With Didi we learned there are different types of Diesel. How that happened? Well, we tanked our car in a village about 80km outside of Belgrade. That was our first time to fill the car and we just went to the first gas station. When a guy asked us: ‟Which Diesel?ˮ it didn’t make sense to me. Now it does. I decided to use the cheaper one (why should we buy expensive fuel with all the fancy extra stuff for an 18 year old car?) and I paid the price. My car couldn’t go faster than 80 km/h anymore. I couldn’t use the 4th and the 5th gear anymore. It just didn’t have enough power anymore. It was ok in the city center, but it was really awkward on the highway. After this lesson of tanking, I learned that not all fuels are of the same quality in Serbia. You should only tank it in Belgrade or some bigger gas stations. Smaller ones can have quality issues, but our Didi survived this first mistake. Ok, the black cloud of exhaust was huge for a month. It was a bit embarrassing, but ok, fair enough.

We also learned not to trust Google maps too much. In Belgrade and on bigger roads, everything works, but our last trip to the East of Serbia ended on a gravel road. First, the road was kind of okay, but it got worse and worse. It was completely washed out by the rain and it was almost impassable without an offroader. Luckily we went downhill and at some point, we realized that there wouldn’t be a way to go up hills again. We’d have got stuck if we’d have turned around. We made it somehow to the next proper road. But psssst, we‘re going to sell the car to my successor and he shouldn‘t know all the details. ;)

While thinking about these stories, I can remember one more - even though it's not a funny one. But I just never experienced something similar and it would not be possible in Switzerland. We had a lot of protests here in Belgrade this year (#1od5miliona) where a lot of Serbs were demonstrating against the Serbian president and for more democracy. I think it's a very positive sign that such protest have been possible. But at some point the president organised a counter protest to show how many supporters he has. Hundreds of buses brought ten thousands of people from all over Serbia to Belgrade to demonstrate for the president. Most of them have been paid to join this counter protest. This huge event happened just in front of our office and we even had police men on our roof top. They locked the whole city center to make this protest happen. Everything was completely blocked. We were at Ada Ciganlija that day and wanted to go back home by car. What a great idea. Even several hours after the counter protest, the whole city center (where our Belgrade home is) was still completely locked. There was a huge traffic jam and not a single road which was open. We didn't have any choice and we had to leave the car a bit outside of the city center to get home by foot. You can't imagine how many buses we saw and how crowded the city center was. Just crazy.

Where is my home, sweet home?

Let me come back to the doubts I was explaining at the beginning. Where is our home and what does Belgrade mean to us?

Before we even moved to Belgrade, we saw this video (sorry non-German speakers) by accident. Just like Avicii’s song, the video says: 

“One day we’ll be old and think of all the stories that we could have told.” 

We were thinking a lot about these words before we moved to Belgrade. I would banalize things, if I’d say we moved to Belgrade because of the song. But one of the reasons why we - and especially Elena - answered the Belgrade question with yes was because we didn’t want to think of stories that we could have told. We wanted to experience new things, not only to think about them. We were curious to explore a life outside of Switzerland. We didn’t want to tell that we almost went to Belgrade and that we almost experienced to live abroad. 

In the last couple of weeks, we slowly started to realize that our time here is coming to an end. And one thing got clearer as well: Leaving Belgrade will be very emotional to us. F.e. Malea started to ask if we really have to go back to Switzerland. Belgrade really became our home. Belgrade means so much to us. And we are so glad about it. It shows that all of us felt good here, that we had a great time in this exciting city. And that’s the trick in the initial question. Are we moving back home? Yes, kind of. St. Gallen and the Eastern part of Switzerland will always b our home. But, at the same time, no. We’re not only moving back home - we’re leaving our home as well. We had our ups and downs, we had crisis and great experiences, but overall, we had a blast. Do we want to go back to St. Gallen? Yes, but we don’t want to leave Belgrade either. It was just an honor to be Beograđanin (Serbian word for a person who lives in Belgrade).

After our Serbian experience we will continue with our Australian one. Before we go back to Switzerland, we will be in Australia for three months. We will travel across the country and  enjoy our sabbatical. I’m glad we’ll have this family time together. It will help us to close this exciting chapter in Belgrade and to get ready for the next one. One thing really changed while we were in Belgrade: We can imagine to live abroad. This is not only my summary. All of the four of us are on the same page: We will take this chance again if we’ll have it. It’s just great and incredibly hard at the same time, it widens your horizon, it gives you new perspectives, it lets you have new experiences and it enriches your life.

My successor Philipp and my coach Mika preparing Cevapi and St. Galler Olma Bratwurst at our Belgrade summer party.

And it’s - obviously - time to say thank you. First of all to my beautiful wife Elena and my wonderful kids. Thank you for plunging into the adventure, being curious and for loving me. Second to Merkle, our executive management and my coach Mika for your trust. I really enjoyed our cooperation. We had a lot of interesting, good and intense discussions and I always found open ears when it was needed. Third to Sämi. Thank you for our very cool and close collaboration. I called you more than Elena in the last 2.5 years. :) I never felt alone with my Belgrade challenges. You’ve been a huge support! Fourth to my local management team with Mina, Marija and Milijana. Thank you for keeping our Belgrade location running! You’re doing an amazing and often underrated job. Fifth to the local leadership team with all the local coaches (Milena, Emilija, Ana, Tamara, Ivana, Dusan, Sava, Nikola, Marko, Ivan). Thank you for shaping our office in Belgrade, thank you for raising questions and thank you for trusting me. Sixth to all Belgrade employees (the list would be too long). Thank you for being part of Merkle. You make our Belgrade location what it is: Great! And last but not least to Phillip. Thanks for taking over. I know my baby is in safe hands! And if not… I know where you live and I kept one of the apartments keys! ;)

Before I finish this blogpost, let me just add one thing: It was a privilege to be a part of our Merkle Belgrade office. Hvala lepo! I love you, guys! You are great and just keep it up!

Namics team in Belgrade
Our Serbian family. We will miss you so much - what a team!