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From the opening song to the TV series Jackie und Jill — Die Bärenkinder vom Berg Tarak:

Ja so ein Leben,
wünscht man sich eben,
ist man noch klein.

The full lyrics (which can be found in written form here) speak of bear cubs anxious to grow up finally to be able to do all sorts of fun things.

I understand the individual words (not very confident about the "ja so", though), but struggle to make out what the lines mean in combination — in particular, how "ein Leben" relates to the lines (or just one of them?) below it, and how do they fit together while seeming like two separate sentences, each with its own declined verb.

My best guess is that the passage means something along the lines of

And for a lifetime (=what feels like a really long time) that's what you're stuck just wishing for, still being small

but I'm really unsure about it.

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I see how this is hard to understand, even more with the wrong comma at the end of the first line.

It's a shortened conditional that can be detected by looking at the word order: in the second sentence, the verb (ist) is in first position instead of second position, much like in a question, and that means it's a conditional clause.

So, in prose, it could instead be written as:

Ja, man wünscht sich eben so ein Leben, wenn man noch klein ist.

Let's look at a different example, a well-known saying:

Ist die Katze aus dem Haus, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch.
Meaning: Wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, [dann] tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch.

The first part is a condition for the second part: If the cat is out of the house, the mice dance on the table. (In English: If the cat is away, the mice will play.)

Colloquial English has a comparable way of omitting the word "if" or "when", but without changing the word order:

The cat is away, the mice will play.

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  • I think the OP also wasn’t able to recognise subject and object in “so ein Leben wünscht man sich”, maybe you also want to explain that
    – Carsten S
    May 2, 2023 at 18:43
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    @CarstenS I hope that it becomes clear by looking at my version with the correct commas and the canonical word order.
    – HalvarF
    May 2, 2023 at 18:48
  • It somehow hadn't registered with me that you had changed the word order. My bad.
    – Carsten S
    May 2, 2023 at 20:42
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    Just so you know, I think the most common English version of the saying is, "When the cat's away the mice will play." I guess wenn can be translated as either "if" or "when", but the English meanings are different.
    – RDBury
    May 3, 2023 at 2:27

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