It was the first thing I found strangely fascinating about German: a word that went on and on until you ran out of breath or got totally lost in the middle. Invariably it had to be hyphenated on to the row below. Geschwindigkeitsbeschränkungen, all 30 letters of it: a very big word for a fairly simple idea (it means speed limits).
To people who disparage German and praise the Latin-based languages as more creative, easier to learn and more likely to be useful, I simply reply: ah yes, but how many words of 30 letters or more do they have? Can they render complex ideas, such as a person who wears gloves to throw snowballs (Handschuhschneeballwerfer) or a man who pees sitting down (Sitzpinkler) in one deliciously singular word? Several editions of the Guinness Book of Records list Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhaupt-betriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, (why, the association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services, of course) as the longest compound in the German language, even if there's no evidence that such an association ever existed in real life.
Shops get in on the act too, and I'm indebted to @andrea_wulf for this one: Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih, I'm reliably informed, is the place to turn to if you need your wooden floors sanded down. See – I needed 13 English words to say what the Germans can say in one.
— Andrea Wulf (@andrea_wulf)
German compound nouns are just about the best thing about any European languages. Sometimes they can result in three of the same letter butting up against each other (Schifffahrt, journey on a ship, which looks so wrong but isn't, and seeerfahren, skilled at navigating, which is what you'll need to be on a Schifffahrt, or else you might bump into a Seeelephant or, if you're very unlucky a Schneeeule).
Sometimes they can be pure poetry, a far better way of saying things that their English equivalent (Schnellschrauber = power drill). Sometimes they can help you understand other languages and the nature of matter itself (Sauerstoff = oxygen = bitter thing).