I've been doing this with the aid of two texts: (1) The Penguin Book of German Verse, and (2) Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist, the autobiographthingy of Friedrich Nietzsche. And so now, in addition to the useful phrases I learnt in highschool, viz., "Wo ist die Jugendherberge?" (Where is the youth hostel?), "Entschuldigung, haben Sie drei Wellensittiche?" (Excuse me, do you have three budgerigars?) and "Ich möchte die Schokoladenkuchen - jetzt!" (All purpose phrase), I can now say, in the words of August Stramm, "Die Steine feinden/Fenster grinst Verrat" (The stones are hostile/window grins treachery), and, after Rilke, "Feigenbaum, seit wie lange schon ists mir bedeutend,/wie du die Blüte beinah ganz überschlägst" (Fig-tree, for a long time I have found meaning in the way you overleap the stage of blossom). This will be mighty handy if I find myself detained by customs: "My good man, my name is Lexicon Harlot. For a long time I have found meaning in the way you overleap the time of blossom. I have three budgerigars. Do you have three budgerigars?"
But why am I telling you all this? Warum? Warum? Because Ecce Homo is - surprisingly - hilarious. Or - the popular theory - the work of a nutter on the verge of deliquescing irretrievably into public lunacy. But I prefer to think of it as hilarious, and I cite in defence of my amusement the following chapter titles: "Why I Am So Wise", "Why I Am So Clever", and "Why I Write Such Good Books". Take that, autobiographthingies the world over. They don't call him a genius just because his moustaches look like a couple of oversized mice protruding from from his nostrils.
F. Nietzsche with Moustaches, portrait pilfered from here.
And that's the end of my story. If you have any good German words to share (bearing in mind that I already know Regenschirm, Dudelsack, and Schildkröte), let me know.