Yes, typically a European house has a "whole house RCD" aka GFPE that serves at least several circuits at a time, if not the whole house.
I won't call it a GFCI because GFCIs are human safety rated with 5mA sensitivity (which is too sensitive for a whole house)... and RCD/GFPE are not (with 30mA sensitivity).
Current flows in loops. Power comes out the live and back the neutral. One easy way to spot trouble is to compare the two currents. They should be equal at all times. If the currents are not equal, we know current is leaking out via a third path. It's not supposed to do that. This is how GFCIs and RCDs work.
Note this method does not need to care about the ground wire, and indeed, they are not connected to ground at all. (well GFCI receptacles are because they need ground for the socket, but the GFCI doesn't use it.)
Many normal branch circuits have circuit breakers that interrupt the live, but don't interrupt the neutral. Why bother, after all, since neutral current can't be more than live current unless it's crossed with another circuit.
When you shorted neutral to earth, you created a path around the RCD for ordinary neutral current in the house. Some of it came out your branch circuit (since the breaker does not disconnect it), over to earth, and back to the system equipotential bond which is on the utility side of the RCD. This path caused that neutral current to bypass the RCD. Third path! Trip!