You may have heard how easily German produces new words by combining two existing words to form a new compound noun. Anyone can come up with a new compound in a conversation and will probably be understood. Of course it does not stop there but compound nouns can also be a part of new compound nouns producing ever longer words. This led Mark Twain to comment "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective."
Once in a while I see discussions here, where people make it a sport to invent rediculously long compounds. These are not really used in normal German, so they might not count as real words. For real life German, there is a certain limit to these evergrowing words, because they become hard to understand even for a native speaker and then they become bad style. Such considerations will certainly not stop bureaucrats from producing new word monsters. Here is one that is in the news in Germany these days and that puts a smirk on the face of news presenters who read it.
This is a law that is supposed to make work in the German army more attractive. Broken down into its elements we get:
Der Bund - the union, the alliance
Des Bundes - (genetive) of the alliance/federation or federal
Die Wehr - the defense/the army
Die Bundeswehr - the federal army
Die Attraktivität - the attractiveness akin to the adjective
attraktiv - attractive
Die Steigerung - augmentation/increase/enhancement akin to the verb
steigern - to augment/increase/enhance
Das Gesetz - the law
s - There are two linking-s that are sometimes needed as glue (behind Attraktivität and Steigerung). You can also think of them as a genetive.
Das Bundeswehrattraktivitätssteigerungsgesetz therefore is the law for the enhancement of the attractiveness of the federal army. There you go ;-)
You should start with the explanation from the end of the word. That is how the words are constructed and makes it much easier to understand them. If it ends in "-gesetz" it is a law. Everything before is "just" specialisation.
You can also think of them as a genetive.
That is wrong and leads to wrong conclusions. It is a linking element with no relation to the genitive. -s- is not the only linking element, it can be e.g. -e- or -n- also, and they don't even look like a genitive.
Especially in the army where people live on order and obedience some ... er, not so clever people believed this and ordered people especially not to use the -s sound which is why some very strange forms made it into common usage there. When you have to do extra service because you used "Offiziersmesse" instead of "Offiziermesse" ("Sie sagen ja auch nicht Bratskartoffeln"), well, then you don't say it. The one ordering this still is an idiot but he is an idiot with power.
I don't know, even in my lifetime I have seen the use of Fugen-s spread considerably: http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/panorama/neue-studie-zu-deutscher-grammatik-kriegsfuehrung-oder-kriegfuehrung-,10808334,30765618.html
Are you sure the "not so clever people" are the ones that make up the army leadership and not rather those presuming their increased use of said linking element is a fundamental and eternally right one?
Funnily enough Bundeswehrattraktivitätssteigerungsgesetz is short for "Gesetz zur Steigerung der Attraktivität des Dienstes in der Bundeswehr", see also http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundeswehr-Attraktivit%C3%A4tssteigerungsgesetz
You might also be interested in reading http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komposition_(Grammatik) and http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominalstil
Other gems of German legislation...
Rinderkennzeichnungs- und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rinderkennzeichnungs-_und_Rindfleischetikettierungs%C3%BCberwachungsaufgaben%C3%BCbertragungsgesetz)
It's not as if this resembles actually used language... It's just legislation speak and even native speakers can't pronounce it smoothly. It's just too long, too many words combined into one. Technical language is similar (but not THAT bad).
Usually, it's suggested to use a hyphen every 20 letters or so to keep things readable... Or just rephrase it into several words. It's always possible to break these compounds into multiple short words and especially spoken language does it quite frequently.
It is hardly suprising that laws are nearly always abbreviated. My favourites are BeurkG (short for Beurkundungsgesetz - very onomatopoetic ;) ) and EGAO (Einführungsgesetz zur Abgabenordnung which at the same time means "smiling/friendly face" in japanese, if I am not mistaken) Very famous, too, is the BafoG (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz or Bundesgesetz für die individuelle Förderung der Ausbildung) which seems rather long, too
Don't quit because of this ;-) It's the same with Finnish: Yes, German has these long words, but these words are not used in a normal conversation. The longest words that I remember being used are those such as Bruttosozialprodukt (gross national product) in economics discussions.
Actually I really like the way German words attach to one another like Legos; it's one of my favorite aspects of the language. Once I learned not to run away screaming from super-long words and just take a deep breath and a second look, I found I could often determine the meaning of a new word from its components. What a handy feature! (And I can't quit anyway... I just re-gilded my whole tree this morning.)
I just usually don't know enough of the component words yet to know what most compounds are without some dictionary time... X )
(I suspect this has led to my possibly confusing Google while looking for suffixes, since I think it may have interpreted it as a search for things not containing what I was looking for, but with no positive search term)
Don't! As already has been said, it is quite easy to unravel these long words, starting from the end. The last part always is what it really is, the rest is specification. And as Alex just shows it's just a matter of not putting spaces between the words. Bruttosozialprodukt instead of Brutto Sozial Produkt. (Okay, okay, sometimes there's an extra s which you usually can ignore for getting the meaning.) The hardest thing in German for foreigners is - I think - still the word gender. But it seldom matters if you get that one wrong. Usually we German speakers just recognize you faster as a foreigner but still know, what you are trying to say.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care and the only name of a law i know) is also a mouthful. Just because there are some spaces in between, doesn't make it that much easier. And i guess there are other laws, without "cute" nicknames, and longer ones with more complex words in them.
For learners compound words are certainly hard, however you usually start with words that are barely longer than average English words. And once you know them, recognizing the smaller pieces should be no problem afterwards.