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Context. The ESA Gaia mission provides a unique time-domain survey for more than 1.6 billion sources with G ≲ 21 mag. Aims. We showcase stellar variability in the Galactic colour-absolute magnitude diagram (CaMD). We focus on pulsating, eruptive, and cataclysmic variables, as well as on stars that exhibit variability that is due to rotation and eclipses. Methods. We describe the locations of variable star classes, variable object fractions, and typical variability amplitudes throughout the CaMD and show how variability-related changes in colour and brightness induce “motions”. To do this, we use 22 months of calibrated photometric, spectro-photometric, and astrometric Gaia data of stars with a significant parallax. To ensure that a large variety of variable star classes populate the CaMD, we crossmatched Gaia sources with known variable stars. We also used the statistics and variability detection modules of the Gaia variability pipeline. Corrections for interstellar extinction are not implemented in this article. Results. Gaia enables the first investigation of Galactic variable star populations in the CaMD on a similar, if not larger, scale as was previously done in the Magellanic Clouds. Although the observed colours are not corrected for reddening, distinct regions are visible in which variable stars occur. Wemore »