The 25,000 tons of river mud have been shoveled from the cobble-stoned streets of this baroque city. The 65,000 tons of trash have been carted away from deluged businesses, schools and homes. Across the city, the hum of hundreds of hot-air blowers continues to sound from basements where walls are drying, slowly.

The beautiful but unlucky city of Dresden -- firebombed by the Allies in World War II and nearly drowned this summer -- has again waded out of disaster, counting some permanent losses but confident that its cultural heart can be restored to its centuries-old glory.

Last night, Dresden's historic Semper Opera reopened with an adaptation of "Swan Lake," a crowning moment in the latest revitalization of this city just three months after the worst flood in five centuries.

"It will be a very big night, an important symbol of Dresden's determination," Hans-Joachim Frey, artistic director of the opera, said earlier. "It's very important for the city that we play now in our own house before Christmastime so the tourists come back."

On Aug. 13, Frey was preparing for the opening night of a new season beginning with "Swan Lake-Illusions." That day the Elbe and the nearby Weisseritz rivers broke their banks and cascaded through the city center. The basement of the 1,400-seat Semper Opera was swamped and hundreds of costumes, 8,000 pairs of shoes and several Steinway pianos were destroyed, as well as the opera's stage hydraulics, ventilation and lighting systems.

In all, there was $9 billion worth of damage in the eight German states that the floods submerged. The worst-hit area was the state of Saxony and its capital, Dresden, where losses totaled $6 billion, according to federal and state estimates.

Around the city, people faced the destruction of major cultural treasures, many of which had been restored after World War II, and only escaped the worst with some frantic heroics.

At the Zwinger Palace, which houses the state's art collection, museum workers and citizens carried 4,000 paintings to higher floors in seven hours. At the Albertinum, which houses four museums, thousands of statues and artifacts were similarly rescued as water lapped around the feet of volunteers.

Without a stage, the opera turned to a futuristic Volkswagen factory near the city center to put on 12 performances of "Carmen." In the sheer-glass "transparent factory," where workers can be seen from the street as they assemble the company's new luxury model, the Phaeton, "Carmen" played to packed houses in the plant's expansive foyer.

The production was adapted to the setting, and heroine Carmen worked on a car assembly line instead of in a cigarette factory. The nightly audience of 450 could look away from the stage to see cars making their way along an actual assembly line as the space filled with music.

"We loved being able to do this," said Stefan Schulte, head of sales at the factory. "But I need every single car, so I couldn't stop production."

"The show must go on" became the city's motto.

A kindergarten on Friedrich Street in Dresden moved to a somewhat less august setting than the opera -- converted metal containers in an empty lot down the street from the school's ruined building. Water had flooded the kindergarten's basement and first floor and everything was lost.

"The flood is still what people talk about most," said Gisela Preissler, 56, director of the kindergarten, which 52 children attend. "But . . . after the initial shock, people have become relatively optimistic. You see signs in store windows saying, 'we're back' or 'we've reopened.' That's optimistic. We've all got to move on."

Today there are few visible scars. The Albertinum art museums quickly reopened, and the Zwinger opened Saturday, its old masters, including paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens, finally returned to walls against which salvaged paintings had been stacked 10 deep.

Life has returned largely to normal in the 11,000 businesses and 20,000 private homes that were affected. The boom in reconstruction and reinvestment, helped by a government flood relief fund, has buoyed Germany's eastern states, where the economic growth rate will rise to 2.3 percent next year, according to forecasts by leading institutes. That exceeds the projected growth rate of 1.4 percent in the western states.

"I am optimistic that we will win the battle against this natural catastrophe," said Georg Milbradt, governor of Saxony, in an interview. "There are several reasons. First, the motivation of the people here. Second, the large amount of assistance to rebuild."

The city still faces some tough choices over other parts of its heritage.

Before the floods, workers rebuilding the Church of Our Lady, completed in 1743 and destroyed by Allied firebombing in 1945, had uncovered the basements of nearby houses that were razed by the bombing. State archaeologists had hoped to incorporate them into the rebuilding project, but now fear that they are at risk of future flooding and could undermine the stability of the area around the church.

Others, however, insist that the basements can and should be saved, as they are a poignant memorial to the moment when a city once known as "Florence on the Elbe" went up in flames.

"Why should we be pessimistic?" said Klaus Rautssch, 39, who works at a local hospital. "We're making progress. People are building, things are moving forward, money's there. We can't let the people who have helped us down. So many helped us. There was such a strong sense of sticking together."

Ulrike Helzel stars in Dresden's Semper Opera performance of "Carmen," staged at a local car factory as the opera house underwent repairs.