My four years in Russia end, then, in dramatic fashion: with a textbook Soviet-style expulsion. I am the first western staff correspondent to suffer this fate since the end of the Cold War. I'm stunned. But my expulsion is not, I reflect, a surprise. It's something I have always accepted as a real, if far-fetched, possibility.
Germany's hierarchical reverence for seniority may have something to do with the fact that everything here happens relatively late. Germans start school at six, graduate in their late 20s, and get their first proper jobs in their 30s. Adolescence can go on a long time. It is rare for anyone to achieve responsibility before their 50s.
My journalistic mission was straightforward: to await the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Nobody knew quite when this would be. But the diplomacy - the meetings in the U.N. security council, the allegations about weapons of mass destruction, the martial language of Tony Blair and George W. Bush - all suggested a war was brewing.
When I first began visiting West Germany in the early 1980s, I was startled by the contrast between Birmingham, where I went to school, and affluent Cologne. My host family, the lovely Schumachers, always had an opulent array of grapes on the table; they were better dressed than anyone I knew in Britain.